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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    • Iran threatened to respond to economic sanctions against its oil exports imposed by the US with military action to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, but the US would shut it down quickly.
    • The Strait of Hormuz sees around 30% of the world's oil supply pass through, so the US and its allies in the Middle East would have it back open in days.
    • Iran must know it can't hold the strait, but a former US ambassador told Business Insider it's likely a bluff to try to send a message about oil prices, which Iran could manipulate and use to help break US-imposed sanctions. 

    Iran threatened to respond to economic sanctions against its oil exports imposed by the US with military action to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, the sea passage into the Persian Gulf that sees around 30% of the world's oil supply pass — but if they did, the US would shut them down in days. 

    "As the dominant power in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, (Iran) has been the guarantor of the security of shipping and the global economy in this vital waterway and has the strength to take action against any scheme in this region," Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri said, according to Reuters.

    Iran's threat to shut down a major international waterway vital to providing food and commerce for hundreds of millions in the region follows its president saying the US could find itself in the "mother of all wars" with the Islamic Republic. 

    But Iran's military wouldn't last more than a few days against the US and its allies, and according to experts, Iran must know this, and is likely bluffing as they have in past threats to close the strait. 

    “In the event Iran choose to militarily close the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. and our Arabian Gulf allies would be able to open it in a matter of days,” former Adm. James Stavridis told CNBC on Monday.

    Stavridis, who served as NATO's supreme allied commander Europe, said that Iran would likely try to mine the waterway to ward off traffic, and may also resort to sending out its small, fast attack craft on suicide runs against US Navy ships that could do some damage. 

    But the US wouldn't go it alone, and Iran would quickly find the waterway unmined, its fast attack craft at the bottom of the strait and its coastal missile batteries destroyed.

    What's behind Iran's bluff? Oil

    fleetmon strait of hormuzFormer US Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey, now an expert at the Washington Institute, told Business Insider that it's "highly unlikely" Iran would move on the Strait of Hormuz, "but just the threat of doing that sent oil prices up."

    President Hassan Rouhani, in warning Trump about the "mother of all wars" tried "to warn not so much Trump, but all of the customers of Iranian oil that if they all stop buying Iranian oil when US sanctions take effect on November 4, it will hurt prices," said Jeffrey. 

    Manipulating oil prices and wielding its massive oil production infrastructure represent "the weapon that the Iranians can most easily use," in combatting US sanctions, Jeffrey said. Rather than violating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran deal, Iran prefers to force nations to trade with it in spite of US sanctions by putting pressure on overall supply.

    "If they would have been violated the JCPOA," said Jeffrey, "they’d lose the support of western Europe."

    "They're doing this to spook consumers," of Iranian oil, said Jeffrey. 

    "If the Iranians want to escalate" tensions into fighting along the Strait of Hormuz, "we saw that movie in '88 and in the end they lost their navy," said Jeffrey, referring to the Operation Praying Mantis, when the US responded to Iran mining the strait with an aircraft carrier strike group that decimated its navy. 

    SEE ALSO: Iran harassed and humiliated the US Navy under Obama — here's why it stopped under Trump

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Trump Xi

    • The annual must-pass defense bill's final product will not include a full ban on Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE, but will instead block them from contracts with the US government.
    • While the move was seen as a major concession to Trump and China, the softened language in the bill is unlikely to imperil its chances of passing.

    WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were very concerned about the nefarious Chinese smartphone maker ZTE ever since the Trump administration decided to begin easing the punishments levied on the company for violating US sanctions.

    But when the conference committee tasked with hashing out the House and Senate differences in the annual National Defense Authorization Act eased back on what was previously considered a key national security concern, lawmakers gave a collective groan at the major concession to President Donald Trump.

    Now, they are likely moving on without a fuss.

    The original language passed by the Senate in June included a full ban on sales for ZTE. Late last week, the conference committee went in another direction, changing language in the legislation to only ban ZTE from contracts with the US government.

    A handful of lawmakers lamented the move, saying Trump and Republicans were letting the Chinese skate free.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that "Republicans chose to fold and cravenly sell out America’s workers and national security."

    Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been one of the most critical of ZTE, seemed baffled at Republicans' leniency on the telecommunications giant.

    "I don't understand," Rubio said during an appearance on CNN. "If we know for a fact that no country in the world spies on us more than China does, no country in the world steals intellectual property from us more than China does, and they used their telecommunications companies to do it, installing back doors into routers, all sorts of things, why we would allow them to remain in business in the United States?"

    "So that’s why knowing that and knowing what my colleagues know about ZTE, I don't understand why they would give in so easily, so quickly and cave on something that would have put them out of business by denying them access to U.S. semiconductors," he added.

    'What we'll see is how China responds'

    South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, told Business Insider that the lenient ZTE ban is about trade more than national security and that "we got to get some W’s on the board when it comes to trade negotiations."

    But Graham did not dismiss the security concerns, even though China has been afforded a lot more breathing room than the previous language allowed.

    "What we’ll see is how China responds," Graham said. "We’ll see if they do something that’s inconsistent with a sort of a second chance they’ve got, I think no matter what President Trump says we’ll come down hard."

    The general feeling from staffers on Capitol Hill is that the watered down ban for ZTE is not likely to be a hurdle for the bill's passage. The bill is a must-pass piece of legislation and is full of other major components relating to national security and defense.

    Simply, a bill this big has too many other things that will make lawmakers will want to vote for it, even if it goes easy on a company closely aligned with the Chinese government's intelligence agency.

    Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, essentially told Business Insider as much.

    "That’s unfortunate," Kaine said of the softened ZTE language. "I mean, I signed the conference report. I think there’s a lot of good in it. But I think that’s unfortunate."

    SEE ALSO: Rebuking Trump can be risky — so Republicans take to congressional hearings to berate administration officials on trade

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: North Korean defector: Kim Jong Un 'is a terrorist'

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    navy seal training

    With the beginning of summer, pools all over the US are opening for recreational swimming — but in the Navy, recruits are getting ready for the brutal Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, or BUD/S, that will turn some of them into Navy SEALs.

    In the SEALs, where recruits of the elite special operations unit are pushed to their limits, there is no room for inefficiency. So it developed a more efficient swimming stroke: the combat swimmer stroke.

    The stroke combines the best elements of breaststroke and freestyle to streamline a motion that not only reduces resistance on a swimmer's body, but makes the swimmer harder to spot underwater.

    Here's a sample of the stroke:

    Unlike freestyle, the combat sidestroke calls for the swimmer to stay submerged for most of it.

    To do the combat swimmer stroke, dive in or kick off as you would in freestyle, but at the end of your glide, do a large, horizontal scissor kick instead.

    Now comes the unique part — as the horizontal scissor kick tilts your body so that one arm is slightly higher than the other, pull that arm back while leaving the other outstretched.

    Turn your face up toward the surface as you pull that arm down, take a breath, and begin to pull down your other arm. Another scissor kick, then reset your arms. You should not switch your orientation or the order in which you pull back your arms.

    Here's a step-by-step breakdown:

    Using the combat swimmer's stroke, Navy SEALs can go for miles in grueling training events that push their physical and mental strength.

    SEE ALSO: Forget 'Hell Week' — a Navy SEAL reveals the hardest part of training

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    NOW WATCH: A Navy SEAL commander explains what his training taught him about ego

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    Osama Bin Laden US War in Afghanistan terrorism

    • Osama Bin Laden has gone down as one of the most vicious figures in history, but he admittedly lacked the courage to fight in an actual battle.
    • Prince Turki al-Faisal, former head of Saudi intelligence who knew Bin Laden said: "He was not a fighter. By his own admission, he fainted during a battle."
    • Bin Laden is best known for coordinating violence and terrorism, and not for actually fighting himself. 

    Osama Bin Laden, the terror leader behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, has gone down as one of the most vicious figures in history, but he admittedly lacked the courage to fight in an actual battle.

    In an interview with The Guardian on Friday, Bin Laden's family and those close to him opened up about his personal life and the fallout he brought down on Saudi Arabia after his rise to infamy. 

    Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence for 24 years until September 1, 2001, told The Guardian that "there are two Osama bin Ladens... One before the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and one after it."

    Bin Laden got his first taste of warfare in Afghanistan during its 1970s war with the Soviet Union, but it turned out he wasn't made of soldiering stuff. 

    "He was very much an idealistic mujahid [this word has a similar meaning to jihadist]. He was not a fighter. By his own admission, he fainted during a battle, and when he woke up, the Soviet assault on his position had been defeated," Turki said. 

    Bin Laden's family portrays him as drifting towards radicalism and away from the family in the decades between that struggle and 2001 in The Guardian interview. The family has tried to distance itself from Bin Laden's acts of terrorism, but his youngest son went to Afghanistan to "avenge" his death, they said. 

    Bin Laden famously led Al Qaeda and planned the 2001 attacks. Again, Bin Laden himself did not engage in the hijackings, and simply coordinated them behind the scenes. 

    When Bin Laden finally came face to face with US forces, taking the form of US Navy SEALs storming his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, initial US government reports said he hid behind women in the complex to use them as a human shield.

    Later the White House walked back those statements. The Pentagon never released images of Bin Laden's body, and the SEALs that participated in the attack all say it's because he was left in unpresentable shape.

    SEE ALSO: The bin Laden family says Osama's youngest son went to Afghanistan to 'avenge' his father

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    Iran Navy

    • Iran had 50 or so armed speedboats training on swarming maneuvers in the Persian Gulf, and despite their small size and low tech, they could seriously damage the US Navy.
    • The ships aren't that great, but excel in the exact areas that the US Navy isn't well suited to handle.
    • Iran has the first mover advantage against the US, meaning a sneak attack could quickly sink massive US ships, even if they lose their whole speedboat fleet in the process -- as is likely.

    Iran has dispatched its elite Islamic Republican Guard Corps navy to the Strait of Hormuz, a massively valuable waterway that Tehran has threatened to close as retaliation against the US— and despite their small size and dated ships, these commandoes could do real damage to the US Navy.

    The US Navy stands unmatched on earth in terms of size and ability, but Iran's IRGC ships are small, fast, deadly, and designed specifically to present an asymmetrical threat to the toughest ships on earth. 

    The IRGC doesn't have any interest going toe to toe with the US Navy by building its own destroyers or carriers, instead, it's formed a "guerrilla army at sea" of vicious speedboats with guns, explosives, and some anti-ship missiles, Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst at geopolitical consulting firm Stratfor, told Business Insider.

    "They understand full well that there’s a decisive qualitative disadvantage against the US and its allies," Lamrani said of the IRGC. "They know they can’t win, so they plan to attack in a very fast way with many, many small ships swarming the US vessels to overwhelm them."

    Currently, that situation is exactly what the IRGC is training for. US officials said that more than 50 small boats are now practicing "swarming" attacks to potentially shut down the strait which sees about 30% of the world's oil pass through, according to Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson.

    For the Iranians, it's a suicide mission. But in Iran's struggle to oppose the US at any cost, something it sees as a spiritual matter, they could employ these little ships and irregular warfare to cripple the US Navy.

    How the US would fight back

    us navy uss boxer gunner

    If the US knew a hostile group of IRGC fast attack craft were swarming around the Gulf trying to close down the Strait of Hormuz, there's no question its destroyers and other aircraft carrying ships could unleash their helicopters to strafe the ships to the bottom of the sea. With enough notice, nearby US Air Force planes like the A-10 Warthog could even step in. 

    "The biggest weapon [US Navy ships] have against these swarm boats is the helicopter. Helicopters equipped with mini guns have the ability to fire very fast and create standoff distance to engage them," said Lamrani.

    If some swarming ships did break through, the Navy has automated close-in weapons systems and missiles it can fire to pick the ships off. But, "the problem is, with these swarm boats, there's only so much they can engage before the vessels get in range and cause damage."

    But Iran holds the first mover advantage

    iran irgc navy fast attack craft

    Iran holds the first mover advantage. The US Navy regularly transits the Persian Gulf, and it does so peacefully. The US and Iran are not at war, so when Iranian ships have harassed the US Navy in the past, they've come within a hundred yards of the billion-plus dollar ships before being warded off by warning shots

    That means the ideal scenario for the US, where it sees the enemy a ways out and can call in devastating air power, likely won't happen. Iran knows it can only win with a sneak attack, so Lamrani thinks that's how they'll do it. 

    "If they decide to do this, they’re going to go as fast as possible, in as many numbers as possible before they get wrecked," said Lamrani.

    The US Navy's lack of training against low-end threats like speedboats further exacerbates the problem. Navy watchers frequently point out the force is stretched thin across a wide spectrum of missions, and that surface warfare, especially against a guerilla force, hasn't been a priority. 

    Ultimately, no serious military analyst thinks 50 or so Iranian speedboats could hold off the US Navy for long, but caught unawares, the first round could deal a devastating loss to the US. 

    "Given the constraints, this is a very, very effective tactic, very cost effective," said Lamrani. "Even if they lost an entire fleet of speedboats and they managed to sink an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, a destroyer," the effect would be devastating. 

    SEE ALSO: Trump is pushing for a summit that would deeply humiliate Iran's leaders — but they need it too

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    trump rouhani iran 2x1

    • The Trump administration on Monday announced it would reinstate sanctions on Tehran after the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.
    • Iran has responded to looming sanctions with military threats but backed it up with little action.
    • Iran's economy is tanking for numerous reasons, but the sanctions could seriously rock the country, which is already seeing massive protests.
    • Iran has its back against a wall and faces economic or military defeat by the US or a humiliating summit with Trump.
    • An expert told Business Insider that Iran could negotiate with the US through Russia to save face.

    The Trump administration on Monday announced it would reinstate sanctions on Tehran after the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal — and Iran has made no shortage of vitriolic threats about what it may do in response.

    Beginning Tuesday, the US plans to sanction Iran's central bank, sending a clear message to the US's European allies: Do business with the US, or do it with Iran, but not both.

    The US plans to follow up with another round of sanctions in November targeting Iran's lifeblood: its oil exports.

    In response to the looming sanctions, Iran has shuffled around its policies regarding foreign currency, fired the head of its central bank, jailed scores of people involved in currency exchange, and made threats to shut down regional oil shipping with military force. It even threatened to destroy everything owned by President Donald Trump.

    "It's pretty clear the Iranians are suffering a fair degree of anger over the economy," Dennis Ross, who has worked on Middle East policy in four US administrations, told reporters on a call set up by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    Iran's currency, the rial, has tanked this year, losing about half its value against the dollar. "In the past week, the price of toothpaste has risen three times," Ross said.

    Amid the economic struggles, Iran has seen wave after wave of protests from both rich and poor citizens, protests the government has often suppressed violently. Ross said that it was unusual to have bazaar vendors, truckers, and conservative towns protesting and beaten back by riot police and that the recent protests were "noteworthy."

    Ross said, however, that Trump's election and a mounting anticipation that sanctions would return had some effect on Iran's economy but were "not the root cause."

    He instead pointed to corruption, talent mismanagement, years of isolation from international business standards, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' massive role in the economy, and a lack of transparency as proving inhospitable to investment.

    At the same time, Trump withdrawing from the nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions dealt Iran a huge blow, which will significantly hurt its earning potential and liquidity. Ross said that while China may still buy Iranian oil amid the US sanctions, it could ask for a discount; while India may still buy Iranian oil, it may offer to pay only in rupees.

    Iran makes big threats and takes little action


    Michael Eisenstadt, an expert on Middle East security and defense, told reporters on the Washington Institute's call that while Iran had talked a big game, it carefully measured its actions to avoid a strong US response.

    "Iran faces a dilemma," Eisenstadt said. "In the past, Iran's main response was to redouble efforts in the nuclear domain" as a response to US pressure, but Iran has reduced its nuclear infrastructure as part of the nuclear deal with the US and other countries.

    Iran has made threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, where about 30% of the world's oil exports pass through, but Eisenstadt and other experts dismissed this as bluster.

    Instead, Iran could send missiles to its Houthi allies in Yemen to target oil shipping from US allies, as it already has. Iran could attack US troops in Syria. It could detain US citizens, wage a cyberattack, or harass US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf.

    Iran hasn't really done any of those things yet. When Iran's military has lashed out or tested the US in Syria, the US has beaten its forces back emphatically, as has Israel.

    Putin the peacemaker?

    putin trump helsinki

    As Iran finds itself increasingly boxed in by US pressure, Trump has dangled the humiliating prospect of a summit with the country's leadership.

    "Iran, and it's economy, is going very bad, and fast!" Trump tweeted on Saturday. "I will meet, or not meet, it doesn't matter - it is up to them!"

    A summit with Trump would greatly shame the theocratic rulers of Iran, as they frame their government as a revolutionary act opposing US hegemony and cry "death to America."

    But according to Ross, Iran may have another option: Russia.

    "I have a suspicion that even if it doesn't come directly, I can easily see in six months the Iranians turning to the Russians and letting the Russians be their channel," to negotiate with Trump, Ross said. "Given the Trump-Putin relationship, we can see Russia coming and offering something, opening up a negotiation."

    By dealing through Putin and not Trump, Iran could save face while dealing with Trump's withdrawal from the deal and its other economic issues.

    SEE ALSO: Iran is training tiny speedboats to seize a key waterway — and it could actually cripple the US Navy

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    msdf maya aegis destroyer japan

    • Japan launched a new destroyer with top-of-the-line US missile-defense technology earlier this month.
    • Japan's military is a self-defense force, and the ship is meant only for training and diplomatic outreach.
    • But China, which wants to seize control of the South China Sea, portrayed it as a menace.
    • Defense cooperation between the US and Japan ushered in an era of peace that enriched the world, including China, but now a powerful China seeks to unseat the US as the world's superpower, and its response to the destroyer demonstrates that.

    Japan recently launched a new class of destroyer with top-of-the line US missile-defense technology, and despite Japan's mostly defensive posture, China portrayed the ship as a dangerous menace.

    The seven decades since World War II, which concluded with the US dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, have seen the rise of a strong US-Japanese alliance and peace across the Pacific.

    Japan, following its colonization of much of China during the war, renounced military aggression after surrendering to the US. Since then, Japan hasn't kept a standing military but maintains what it calls a self-defense force. Japan's constitution strictly limits defense spending and doesn't allow the deployment of troops overseas.

    But threats from North Korea, which several times has fired nuclear-capable missiles over Japan, have prompted a desire in Tokyo for missile defenses, which the US has obliged, manifesting itself in part in Japan's new Maya destroyer class.

    "It's not a big deal that they have this ship," Veerle Nouwens, an Asia-Pacific expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider. "They're using it for military exchanges or diplomacy. That's effectively what it's doing by going around to India, Sri Lanka, and Singapore."

    The new destroyer isn't a radical departure from Japan's old ones and will spend most of its time training with and visiting neighboring militaries. The destroyer isn't exactly a rubber ducky, but it has one of the more peaceful missions imaginable for a warship.

    One reason it may have drawn rebuke from Beijing is simple geography. This destroyer will have to pass through the South China Sea, and that is extremely sensitive for Beijing, which unilaterally claims almost the whole sea as its own in open defiance of international law.

    China's Global Times state-linked media outlet responded to the ship's launch by saying it was "potentially targeting China and threatening other countries," citing Chinese experts.

    "Once absolute security is realized by Japan and the US, they could attack other countries without scruples," one such expert said, "which will certainly destabilize other regions."

    China's real game

    map china sea

    "China seeks full control over the South China Sea," Nouwens said. "We can say that quite squarely. It seeks to displace the US from its traditional position from its regional dominance in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific more widely."

    Since World War II, the US, particularly the US Navy, has enforced free and open seas and a rules-based world order. Imposed at a massive cost to the US, this order has enriched the world and specifically China, as safe shipping in open waters came as a given to businesses around the globe.

    But now, Nouwens said, "China is threatening to lead to a situation where that may not be a given anymore."

    China has repeatedly threatened force against countries that seek to undertake simple activities, like fishing, within their own UN-designated maritime borders. But when a US Navy ship passes through the South China Sea, Beijing calls it provocative, unhelpful, or destabilizing.

    "When other countries do it, it's threatening," Nouwens said. "When China does it to other countries, it's fine."

    That the only two countries to ever engage in nuclear war can now work together as partners looking to protect the rights of all countries on the high seas might represent a welcome and peaceful development.

    But for Beijing, which fundamentally seeks to undermine that world order to further its goals of dominating Asia, it's cause for worry.

    SEE ALSO: 'Leave immediately or you will pay': China is threatening foreign ships and planes, but the US military isn't changing a thing

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    Tu 22M3

    • Russia will roll out an upgrade to its Tu-22M supersonic, nuclear-capable bomber on August 16.
    • The upgrade modernizes the avionics and communications, but its integration with anti-ship missiles makes it a huge threat to US Navy aircraft carrier strike groups.
    • Both Russia and China have very long range, very fast missiles that could possibly sink a carrier.
    • The US is working on a new unmanned tanker jet for aircraft carriers to extend its range and fight back the competition. 

    Russia's long-awaited upgrade to the Tupolev Tu-22M, the Tu-22M3M, will roll out on August 16, and bring with it a missile that's a nightmare for the US Navy to defend against, The Diplomat reports

    The Tu-22M, an airframe that first flew in 1969, features a variable wing and a massive payload at around 2.4 tons, rivaling the B-1B Lancer, the US's only supersonic bomber.

    The upgraded Tu-22M3M focuses on modernizing the avionics, communications, and controls on the Cold War era bomber, according to the report. But the Tu-22M3M's integration with some of Russia's deadlier missiles, and role as a nuclear-capable maritime strike jet pose a serious challenge.

    Not only can the Tu-22M carry nuclear weapons, it has some formidable anti-ship weapons and even an air-launched ballistic missile. 

    The KH-32, the Diplomat reported, has been purpose-built to take on US Navy aircraft carrier strike groups, the most expensive and powerful ships in the world. 

    With a claimed range of 620 miles and a flight pattern that soars it up into the stratosphere before diving down low to approach a target at speeds up to four times the speed of sound, the KH-32 takes advantage of both high and low altitudes.

    This varied flight path and incredible speed present a very hard target for US Navy missile defenses to intercept, and the missile's claimed range means Russian Tu-22M3M pilot can fire from a safe distance outside the maximum range of US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets, which max out at around 550 miles. 

    Russia has developed over the last few decades long range missiles meant to target US aircraft carriers as a means of neutralizing the US's massive advantage in carriers. Russia's only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is an outdated ship with a host of mechanical issues and will be offline for years during an overhaul. 

    China, the US's other great power competitor, which has in many ways eclipsed Russia, has also worked on a gang of new missiles that combine nontraditional flight paths with supersonic bursts of speed to get through US defenses.

    US carrier strike groups rely on guided missile destroyers and cruisers to defend the capital ship, the carrier, from incoming enemy missiles. Currently, the US hopes to overcome the Russian and Chinese missile gap with an unmanned refueling tanker aboard aircraft carriers that could extend the range of the jet fighters on deck. 

    SEE ALSO: Beijing's response to Japan's new destroyer shows its authoritarian endgame in the South China Sea

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    yemen bus bombing

    • Saudi Arabia's spokesman for the Gulf Arab coalition fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen had to defend the bombing of a school bus full of children.
    • Saudi Arabia called massive attention to its human rights practices this month when it attacked Canada's human rights record after being challenged to release jailed women's rights activists. 
    • Retaliating against Canada, Saudi Arabia canceled all flights to the country and suspended Saudi access to medical treatments there, potentially hurting its own citizens and keeping Canadian Muslims from visiting Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage later this month. 
    • Saudi Arabia also crucified a man on Wednesday in a rare form of punishment that served as another blow to its global image. 

    Saudi Arabia's spokesman for the Gulf Arab coalition fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen on Thursday defended the bombing of a school bus full of children, in the latest episode that has prompted renewed scrutiny over the kingdom's human-rights practices.

    An airstrike from the Saudi-led coalition hit dozens, including children on a school bus on Thursday, according to local officials and medical providers.

    Reuters reporters saw responders rush children to medical help. A spokesperson for the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels said the attack showed a "clear disregard for civilian life."

    Saudi Arabia has long faced criticism over its role in the Yemen conflict, which has gone on for three years and taken an extreme toll on civilians.

    The conflict, driven by Saudi's rival, Iran-backed Houthi rebels who overthrew the internationally recognized government in Yemen's most popular cities, has killed more than 10,000.

    The fighting has led the Saudi-led coalition to blockade Yemen's ports for fear of Iranian weapons getting in, causing mass starvation, malnutrition, and one of the worst cholera outbreaks of the century in the Arab world's poorest country.

    The air strike "conformed to international and humanitarian laws," Saudi spokesman Col Turki al-Malki said in a statement. He added that the strike responded to persistent missile attacks on Saudi cities and said Houthis hide among civilian populations to use them as human shields, a tactic also employed by ISIS and other terror groups

    Thursday's airstrike left "scores killed, even more injured, most under the age of 10," a Red Cross official told Reuters, and comes at a bad time for Saudi Arabia's image globally. 

    Saudi Arabia's brutal week on human rights

    Mohammed bin Salman Silicon Valley 00007

    On Friday, Canada's foreign ministry asked for the "immediate release" of women's rights activists imprisoned in the country. The call triggered an intense backlash from Saudi Arabia that saw trade, medical, and student exchanges swiftly halted between the two countries.

    Saudi state-owned media then took Canada to task for its own alleged human rights abuses that included the jailing of a Holocaust denier and other arrests. Saudi media's treatment of the situation gained wide attention in the West, where the spotlight was then thrust back on the kingdom.

    On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia beheaded and crucified a Myanmar man accused of a litany of high crimes. The rare form of punishment received wide media attention, in part for its juxtaposition with Saudi's recent defense of its human rights record.

    Saudi Arabia is ruled by its interpretation of Islamic law, requiring women to dress in conformity with Islamic code and considering them in the care of male guardians. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has led an effort to modernize the country and improve human rights, but it remains largely a theocratic monarchy. 

    But of all the charges against Saudi Arabia's domestic human rights record, its participation in the fighting in Yemen has drawn perhaps the sharpest rebuke. Iran, another Middle Eastern theocracy with a similarly poor human rights record, has long drawn rebuke from the US and its allies for some of the same practices in place in the kingdom.

    Saudi Arabia is a key US ally in the Middle East and a large buyer of US military equipment. When Saudi warplanes, or those of its Gulf Arab allies, fly missions to Yemen, they drop US-made bombs and refuel from US-made tankers. 

    Saudi Arabia's position as a massive oil exporter willing to work with the West has long shielded it from human rights criticism.

    SEE ALSO: Trudeau made a glaring tactical error that's getting Canada hammered by Saudi Arabia

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    • In laying out its plans this week for the future of space, the US took a big shot at China's ambitions.
    • The head of the Chinese lunar-exploration program recently described space as if it were the South China Sea, an area Beijing has seized with force and militarized after wrecking the environment to build new islands.
    • The US is the only power strong enough to stop Beijing in the South China Sea — or in space.
    • Space is full of chokepoints and strategic locations that China could pin down and establish control of.
    • The US is locked in a fight to maintain an edge on China to keep space free and open.

    When Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday set forth the US's vision for the future of space exploration and combat, he took a not-so-subtle shot at China, signaling a coming space race between the world's two biggest powers.

    First, Pence brought up a 2007 episode in which China shot down one of its own satellites as a "highly provocative demonstration of China's growing capability to militarize space" (though the US has satellite-killing missiles too).

    But the real dig at China that hints at the future of space conflict came in a more subtle fashion.

    "While other nations increasingly possess the capability to operate in space, not all of them share our commitment to freedom, to private property, and the rule of law,"Pence said. "So as we continue to carry American leadership in space, so also will we carry America's commitment to freedom into this new frontier."

    Pence also mentioned Russia, but one of the "other" nations at the top of Pence's mind is China, where space exploration has boomed and Beijing has already started talking about celestial bodies as if they're a birthright.

    Here's Ye Peijian, the head of the Chinese lunar-exploration program, last year:

    "The universe is an ocean, the moon is the Diaoyu Islands, Mars is Huangyan Island. If we don't go there now even though we're capable of doing so, then we will be blamed by our descendants. If others go there, then they will take over, and you won't be able to go even if you want to. This is reason enough."

    Ye's mention of the Diaoyu Islands, which the Japanese also claim and contest, and of Huangyan Island, which the Philippines also claim and contest, recall Beijing's behavior in the South China Sea.

    China unilaterally, and in violation of international law, claims 90% of the South China Sea, a resource-rich shipping lane and maritime chokepoint. China has heavily militarized artificial islands it built there at tremendous cost to the environment. If Beijing locked down the South China Sea, it could consolidate much of Asia's lifeblood under the de facto control of its authoritarian government.

    Space works in much of the same way.

    china space agency

    "What appears at first a featureless void is in fact a rich vista of gravitational mountains and valleys, oceans and rivers of resources and energy alternately dispersed and concentrated, broadly strewn danger zones of deadly radiation, and precisely placed peculiarities of astrodynamics,"Everett Dolman, a professor of comparative military studies at the US Air Force's Air Command and Staff College, wrote in his book on astropolitics, as the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has highlighted.

    In other words, the pushes and pulls of gravity cause space to work much like the sea. While it lacks physical terrain, it has its own kind of chokepoints, high ground, runways, and thoroughfares.

    'Totally at war with China'

    china space program

    As China ramps up its space program, it stands accused of stealing technology from the US on a massive scale. The space race of the 1960s proved that countries with the strongest industrial base and manufacturing excel in space. China has done everything in its power to match the US in those areas.

    "Make no mistake about it that we are — we are totally at war with China right now," said Jim Phillips, the CEO and chairman of the nanotechnology firm NanoMech, as Brietbart notes. "It's not a war of bombs. It's a war of cyberwarfare, and it's also a war of GDP and jobs. And the one that has the most GDP and the jobs is going to be the clear winner."

    Phillips said nanotechnology, which could aid in manufacturing the advanced materials seen as vital for future space travel, will determine the next space race's winner. He accused China of aggressively stealing nanotech secrets.

    "At that point, China will have the new world," he said. "America will no longer have a disproportionate financial advantage that gives it the moral, economic and the leadership authority it has now. When this happens, America loses; the world changes. Everything changes." China, he said, "won't have to use its military."

    But the US, for now, appears unwilling to let China have its way in either the South China Sea or space.

    "Our destiny, beyond the Earth, is not only a matter of national identity but a matter of national security," Trump said in June. "When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space."

    SEE ALSO: 'Keep out!' China sends six warnings to a US Navy plane, but the US didn't back down

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    turkey syria

    • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening to leave NATO and the West behind for a long time, but he really doesn't have other good options.
    • Turkey engages in several behaviors that the rest of NATO finds unhelpful or downright toxic.
    • US President Donald Trump's sanctions on Turkey have tanked its economy — but instead of making good on the threats to walk, Turkey is holding on for dear life.
    • Turkey's economy has been poorly managed and relies on huge influxes of cash, which other potential allies like Russia or Iran just can't provide. 

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now feuding with his NATO ally US President Donald Trump, wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times on Friday painting his country as the victim of bullying from the US that could result in Ankara "looking for new friends and allies."

    Erdogan's plea for US concessions came after the Turkish lira tanked sharply, bringing markets in Europe and Asia down with it.

    Turkey's economic woes are partly caused by a dispute over the fate of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor whose release Trump reportedly lobbied unsuccessfully for, prompting US sanctions that are contributing to the crisis.

    Turkey has cozy relations with Russia and Iran, and Erdogan's suggestion that Ankara could find "new friends" seems tailor-made to bring fear to European and North American capitals.

    But according to Jonathan Eyal, the international director of the Royal United Services Institute, Turkey has long been looking for other friends and allies, and that's part of the problem.

    "Turkey has no intention of respecting the American sanctions on Iran," Eyal told Business Insider. "It has also said it respects none of the American priorities in Syria. It has offered to buy Russian missiles and other equipment."

    He added: "At every count and on every part, it's gone against not only the US interests, but the interests of the Western alliance."

    Turkey's on-again, off-again proposal to buy Russian missile defenses, for example, shows how the country has frequently courted over-the-line behavior much to the anger of NATO.

    If Turkey were to buy Russian missile defenses, Russia would get a window into NATO's first line of defense. With the US's trillion-dollar F-35 stealth jet coming online specifically as an effort to defeat Russian defenses in the case of war, this represents a hard red line, and Congress has acted accordingly by banning the sale of F-35s to Turkey.

    Erdogan's back is against the wall

    trump like what looking sideways surprised Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

    If Erdogan were to follow through on his threat to leave NATO, he would open a gaping hole in the alliance and possibly give Russia yet another strategic inroad to influence Europe. But it would most likely only further isolate Ankara from the prosperous West.

    "When the Turkish lira collapsed, so did the Russian ruble," Eyal said, as Russia has invested heavily in Turkey. "If Erdogan wants to shake hands as friends in poverty with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, he's welcome to do it."

    Trump's sanctions on Turkey alone almost certainly didn't tank the lira, as sanctions rarely have so profound an effect — instead, it's Turkey's mismanaged economy that relies on huge influxes of outside cash as inflation rises and Erdogan resists combating it with higher interest rates because he ideologically opposes it.

    Possible other friends for Turkey, like Russia and Iran, just don't have the cash to bail out Ankara. China might, but it would insist on its own terms, which a fiercely independent Erdogan might not accept.

    Empty NATO threats

    Trump at NATO

    Even Russia doesn't believe Erdogan's veiled threat to leave NATO.

    "We're not building illusions along with these relations," Frants Klintsevich, a member of the defense and security committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, said of Russia's recent closeness to Turkey, according to Bloomberg.

    Jim Townsend, a NATO expert at the Center for a New American Security, told Business Insider: "Turkey will always remain in NATO. Turkey gains nothing by leaving NATO. They can leave NATO if they want, but they're not going to."

    As Turkey is not a member of the European Union, its only real input to Europe's security posture comes from its participation in NATO, Townsend said. Meanwhile, Turkey conducts most of its trade with Europe.

    Without a credible source of alternative military or financial backing, Turkey is now faced with a binary choice, according to Eyal.

    "The only way this could be resolved now is either the US is going to climb down and accept some sort of deal, or Erdogan will have to lose face, big time," he said.

    But with the US economy doing well and Turkey's economy and prospects quickly tanking, Erdogan has little room to maneuver. He has plenty of reason to wish for mercy from the US, but little reason to expect it unless it falls in line with the US's calls to release Brunson and drop the Russian missiles.

    SEE ALSO: Turkey could solve its banking crisis with one simple mechanism — but Erdoğan is ideologically against it

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    WILKES BARRE, PA - AUGUST 02: President Donald J. Trump singles out the media during his rally on August 2, 2018 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. This is Trump's second rally this week; the same week his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort started his trial that stemmed from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russias alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. (Photo by Rick Loomis/Getty Images)

    • President Trump's long-desired military parade is now expected to cost $80 million more than expected, CNBC reported Thursday.
    • Congress has already authorized the parade, which is slated to take place on November 10 in Washington.

    WASHINGTON — The grand military parade that President Donald Trump wants to hold in the nation's capital in November is now expected to cost $92 million — $80 million more than the original estimate.

    According to a report by CNBC, the Department of Defense now assesses that the parade will cost significantly more, including $50 million from DOD and $42 million from interagency partners. The original cost estimates were in the realm of $12 million.

    A massive parade down the streets of Washington is an expensive endeavor, which would include a large-scale security operation on top of the other costs to put it on this fall.

    In May, when Republicans were getting ready to include funding for the parade in their annual defense bill, a Republican aide clarified that any equipment used would be at the discretion of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

    "Of course you're gonna see a 21-gun salute, you're gonna see firing of cannons, and things like that — that's OK — that's traditional ceremonial function," the aide said. "What we don't wanna see are tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue."

    But the CNBC report noted that the parade is currently expected to include "approximately eight tanks, as well as other armored vehicles, including Bradleys, Strykers and M113s."

    Trump demanded that the administration begin exploring a large parade for himself after attending the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron.

    Trump's parade, which will run down Pennsylvania Ave, is slated for November 10.

    SEE ALSO: The frontrunner to replace Paul Ryan is trying a unique strategy to rally the GOP base around him

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    iran kowsar air force f-5 tiger

    • Iran drew widespread ridicule when it revealed that its supposedly "state of the art" and domestically designed and built "Kowsar" jet fighter was really a 1970s US design with a fresh coat of paint.
    • But inside reports indicate that the F-5 was just a placeholder and that Iran's working on a new trainer/light attack aircraft that could save its air force.
    • Iran is poor and has only a few older jets from the US and Russia — and on top of that, it doesn't have a good domestic pilot-training program.
    • But by creating such a program, Iran has focused on an area its Gulf Arab rivals have neglected and could make its force powerful long into the future. 

    Iran drew widespread ridicule when it revealed that its supposedly "state of the art" and domestically designed and built new "Kowsar" jet fighter was really a 1970s US design with a fresh coat of paint — but according to an expert, the plane has an untold purpose that could save the Iranian air force.

    What Iran billed as a "100% indigenously made" fourth-generation fighter with "advanced avionics" immediately registered with aviation experts as a knockoff of the F-5 Tiger, a US jet that first flew in 1959.

    Iran still has a few F-5s and even F-14s in its inventory from before the Islamic Revolution, when it maintained relations with the US.

    Joseph Dempsey, a defense and military analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, tweeted a useful comparison.

    After the debacle of Iran's latest entry into the world of fighter aircraft, the supposedly stealth Qaher-313, which appeared too small to even lift its pilot off the ground, many aviation watchers saw Iran's Kowsar project as another failure or propaganda project for domestic consumption.

    Iran Qaher F 313

    But according to Justin Bronk, an aerial-combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, the real Kowsar project isn't the F-5 Tiger reboot, but a new system of avionics simply parked in the F-5 as a placeholder.

    Iran failed to produce the real Kowsar project by the date of the announcement, so it instead jammed the new avionics and software into an F-5, the defense analyst Babak Taghvaee tweeted.

    Bronk said the real Kowsar wasn't a fighter at all, but a jet trainer and a light attack plane that could save Iran's air force.

    The state of Iran's air force

    Iranian Air Force F-4E_Phantom II

    "The Iranian air force is an interesting mix," Bronk told Business Insider. "They're, unquestionably, extremely good at making use of older equipment against endless predictions" that those systems will break down — for example, Iran still flies US-made F-14s and F-4s, while the US abandoned those airframes decades ago.

    But somehow, Iran, even under intense sanctions designed to ensure it can't get spare parts from the US, keeps them flying.

    "Given the state of their economy and the embargoes, that is pretty impressive," Bronk said.

    Even with the impressive feat of workmanship that is an Iranian F-14 flying in 2018, when asked to describe Iran's air force's fighters against a regional foe like Saudi Arabia, Bronk said that "'hopelessly quaint' would not be too far off the mark." Matched against Israel or the US in air power, Iran sees its chances sink from bad to much, much worse.

    But besides quaint aircraft having no chance against upgraded Saudi F-15 gunships, Iran has another problem in its shortage of pilots and trainer aircraft, which is where the real Kowsar comes in.

    "Iran has been relying for a long time on basically a bunch of increasingly old veteran pilots, a lot of whom were trained by — or were trained by those who were trained by — the US before the revolution," Bronk said.

    Therefore, Iran needs to drum up its own indigenous fighter-pilot training program — and that's the real purpose of the Kowsar: to train the next generation of Iranian fighter pilots.

    "It's not a bad play," Bronk said. "It makes the most of the limited technology options they have." Meanwhile, according to Bronk, Iran's Gulf Arab enemies have ignored domestic training and had to bring in mercenaries from other countries.

    SEE ALSO: Iran just unveiled a new fighter jet to make sure its military is 'ready to fight' the US

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    russia navy putin

    • Russia has positioned a considerable naval armada in the Mediterranean near Syria after accusing the US of plotting a false flag chemical weapons attack in the country.
    • International investigators link Syria's Moscow-backed government as carrying out dozens of deadly chemical weapons attacks on civilians, but Russia accuses US-linked forces of secretly conducting these same attacks.
    • But Russia's massive navy buildup in the Syria can't actually stop the US from attacking.
    • If Russia did counter attack US Navy ships firing on Syria, the US would likely crush them in short order.
    • Instead, Russia will probably just keep up the propaganda effort, which includes ship deployments. 

    Russia has positioned a considerable naval armada in the Mediterranean near Syria after accusing the US of plotting a false flag chemical weapons attack in rebel-held areas — and it looks like they're preparing for war with the US.

    Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov recently said the US has built up its naval forces in the Mediterranean as it is "once again preparing major provocations in Syria using poisonous substances to severely destabilize the situation and disrupt the steady dynamics of the ongoing peace process." 

    But the Pentagon denied on Tuesday any such buildup, calling Russia's claims "nothing more than propaganda," and warning that the US military was not "unprepared to respond should the President direct such an action,"CNN's Ryan Browne reported. Business Insider reviewed monitors of Mediterranean maritime traffic and found only one US Navy destroyer reported in the area.

    The same naval monitors suggest Russia may have up to 17 ships in the region with submarines on the way

    International investigators have linked Syria's government to more than 100 chemical weapons attacks since the opening of the Syrian Civil war, and Russia has frequently made debunked claims about the perpetrators of, or existence of chemical attacks in the country.

    Anna Borshchevskaya, an Russian foreign policy expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Business Insider that Moscow is possibly alleging a US false flag to help support a weak Syrian government in cracking down on one of the last rebel strongholds, for which chemical attacks have become a weapon of choice.

    "Using chemical weapons terrorizes civilians, so raising fear serves one purpose. It is especially demoralizing those who oppose [Syrian President Bashar] Assad," Borshchevskaya told Business Insider. Borshchevskaya said Assad may look to chemical weapons because his conventional military has weakened under seven years of conflict. 

    Since President Donald Trump took office, the US has twice attacked Syria in response to what it called incontrovertible evidence of chemical attacks on civilians. Trump's White House has warned that any further chemical weapons attacks attributed to the Syrian government will meet with more strikes. 

    Looks like war  

    Russia Navy Day6

    This time, Russia looks like it's up to more than simply conducting a public relations battle with the US. Russia's navy buildup around Syria represents the biggest since Moscow kicked off its Syrian intervention with its sole aircraft carrier in 2015. 

    But even with its massive naval presence, Omar Lamrani, a military analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical consulting firm, told Business Insider Moscow doesn't stand a chance of stopping a US attack on Syria. 

    "Physically the Russians really can’t do anything to stop that strike," said Lamrani. "If the US comes in and launches cruise missiles," as it has in past strikes, "the Russians have to be ideally positioned to defend against them, still won’t shoot down all of them, and will risk being seen as engaging the US," which might cause US ships to attack them. 

    Lamrani pointed out that in all previous US strikes in Syria, the US has taken pains to avoid killing Russian servicemen and escalating conflict between the US and Syrians to conflict between the world's two greatest nuclear powers. 

    "Not because the US cannot wipe out the floatillia of vessels if they want to," said Lamrani, but because the US wouldn't risk sparking World War III with Russia over Syria's government gassing its civilians. "To be frank, the US has absolute dominance" in the Mediterranean, and Russia's ships won't matter, said Lamrani. 

    "The US would use its overwhelming airpower in the region and every singe Russian vessel on the surface will turn into a hulk in a very short time," if Russian ships engaged the US, said Lamrani. 

    So instead of an epic naval and aerial clash, expect Russia to stick to its real weapon fo modern war: Propaganda.

    The US will likely avoid striking most of Syria's most important targets as Russian forces integrated there raise the risk of escalation, and Russia will likely then call the limited US strike a failure, as they have before.

    Russia has made dubious and falsifiable claims about its air defenses in Syria, and could continue down that path as a way of saving face after the US, once again, strikes its Syrian ally as if Russia's forces inspired no fear. 

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    • The US Navy hit a major milestone in its quest to make aircraft carriers a more deadly with F-35Cs training alongside current fighter jets.
    • The F-35C has had a long, costly production, but now promises to revolutionize naval aviation as the first carrier-launched stealth fighter.
    • The F-35C networks with US Navy ships, allowing it to spot targets and direct ship-launched missiles to destroy targets without ever firing a shot of its own.
    • A video from the US Naval Institute's news service shows the jets in operation alongside each other.

    The US Navy hit a major milestone in its quest to make aircraft carriers a more deadly, potent force by sailing the USS Abraham Lincoln with F-35C stealth fighters training alongside F/A-18s for the first time. 

    The Navy's F-35C represents the most troubled branch of the F-35 family. With the Air Force and Marines Corps F-35s coming online over a year ago, the F-35C sorely lags behind as it struggled to master carrier takeoff and landings.

    The F-35C's ability to launch off the decks of the US's 11 supercarriers positions it as the replacement to the long-serving F/A-18 Super Hornet, and the first carrier-launched stealth fighter to ever take to the seas. 

    The USNI News reported on Tuesday that the F-35C has trained alongside F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, and E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes early warning planes. 

    Rear Adm. Dale Horan, charged with integrating the F-35C into the Navy, told USNI News that unlike previous tests that merely saw carriers launching and landing the stealth jets, this time they're "conducting missions they would do in combat, if required."

    Additionally, the crew of the carrier will become familiar with maintaining the F-35C while at sea. 

    Since the F-35's inception, boosters have billed it as a revolution in aerial combat. Never before have stealth aircraft launched off aircraft carriers, nor have planes with such advanced sensors and capabilities. 

    f 35c f 18 abraham lincoln carrier military

    In the future, stealth F-35s could relay targeting information to fighter jets and Navy ships further back from battle to coordinate the destruction of enemy air defenses without firing a shot

    The F-35s, with a stealth design and unprecedented situational awareness provided to its pilots, was designed to fight in highly contested air defense environments, which today's decades-old fighter designs would struggle with.

    The US's move towards stealth platforms meant to challenge the defenses of top-tier militaries like Russia and China represents a broader shift towards strategic competition against great powers, rather than the usual mission of suppressing small non-state actors on the ground.  

    Watch a video of the F-35C's training below:


    SEE ALSO: New footage may show the problem that's delaying the Navy's F-35

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    Kim Jong Un

    • President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are still on polite terms, but the US and Pyongyang have recently floated the idea of resuming hostilities.
    • Trump reportedly made a verbal promise to Kim that he'd end the Korean war, but hasn't come through.
    • North Korea said it could resume missile testing if the US doesn't move on a peace process.
    • Trump and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said the US could go back to military drills, this time  bigger than ever before. 
    • It seems that shaky, unwritten understandings between Kim and Trump are all that's keeping the US and North Korea from their fiercest-ever confrontation. 

    President Donald Trump forged a summer of diplomatic progress with North Korea after walking back from the brink of nuclear war in 2017 — but a recent return to threats shows just how dangerous the situation still is.

    Trump left the Singapore summit with praise for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, heralding a new era of peace and prosperity for the country, as well as the end of the nuclear threat from Pyongyang.

    But Pyongyang has kept its nukes, and appears in no hurry to discard them. Now US patience has worn thin.

    Trump promised Kim that the US would officially end the Korean War, which has technically been running since June 1950, as part of the peace and denuclearization process, Vox reported on Wednesday

    The US has maintained that a peace treaty can only come after steps towards denuclearization, but North Korea pushes for the reverse. 

    Trump canceled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's trip to North Korea after Pyongyang sent a "belligerent" letter to the US warning that they may resume "nuclear and missile activities" if progress towards a peace treaty isn't made. 

    Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recently said that the US and South Korea could resume military exercises, a major irritant in the relationship with Pyongyang and a concession Trump personally made to Kim in Singapore. 

    Trump on Wednesday ratcheted up that prospect, saying that if the US does restart military drills, they "will be far bigger than ever before."

    Both sides prepped for massive escalation

    aircraft carriers bomber north korea pacific

    But Trump's last full round of military drills in 2017 already pushed the envelope for how big a drill could get without spooking North Korea into a first strike.

    In April 2017, the US had three aircraft carriers off North Korea's coast and stood at the brink of full-on war.

    As North Korea's missiles become longer range, and its nuclear weapons larger in destructive power, the only tests left for Pyongyang to run would likely involve massive, possibly intolerable escalations. 

    For example, before ending testing in 2018, North Korea had standing threats to fire missiles at US forces in Guam and detonate an armed nuclear warhead over the Pacific. 

    After the Singapore summit, experts dismissed Trump and Kim's joint statement as empty words each side had often said before without a result.

    But months later, time and reporting have revealed that the most important aspects of the deal took place under-the-table and verbally, with Trump saying he'd declare an end to the war and stop military drills. 

    For now, Trump said he sees no need to continue military drills with South Korea or put military pressure back on Kim, whom he calls a friend. 

    North Korea has broken every agreement it's ever made with the US, and has often done so with high profile launches. 

    Trump often touts North Korea diplomacy as a major win of his presidency, but how he would respond if Kim betrayed the spirit of their friendship with an embarrassing missile launch remains an open question, with potentially dangerous answers. 

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    russia military games

    • Russia and China, the two foremost threats to the US named in official Pentagon reports, will carry out their biggest-ever military drill to reportedly include simulations for nuclear warfare.
    • Russia, the world's largest nuclear power, and China, another long-established nuclear power, have often clashed in the past and still hold many contradictory goals, but have become main targets of the US.
    • But Russia and China have deep differences in nuclear philosophy, so it's unclear how the pair will work together. 

    Russia and China, the two key threats to the US named in official Pentagon documents, will carry out their biggest-ever military drill to reportedly include simulations for nuclear warfare.

    US defense officials told the Washington Free Beacon's Bill Gertz that the drills, the largest in Russia since 1981 and the largest joint Russian-Chinese drill ever, will include training for nuclear war.

    Russia, the world's largest nuclear power, and China, another long-established nuclear power, have often clashed in the past and still hold many contradictory policy goals, but have become main targets of the US.

    Under President Donald Trump, the US has redefined its national security and defense postures, and in both documents pointed towards China and Russia, rather than terrorism or climate change, as the biggest threat to the US. 

    It's unclear how China and Russia may coordinate nuclear war, as they have very different models of nuclear strategy. Russia holds the most nuclear warheads in the world, and has employed them on a growing number of dangerous and devastating platforms. Russia hopes to soon field an underwater doomsday device that could cripple life on earth for decades. Also, US intelligence reports indicate Russia is struggling with a new nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed cruise missile.

    China, on the other hand, has taken the opposite approach to nuclear weapons by opting for minimum deterrence.

    Where Russia and the US have established nuclear parity and a doctrine of mutually assured destruction where any nuclear attack on one country would result in a devastating nuclear attack on the other. Russia and the US achieve this with a nuclear triad, of nuclear-armed submarines, airplanes, and ground-launched missiles so spread out and secretive that a single attack could never totally remove the other country's power to launch a counter strike. 

    But China, with just around 200 nuclear weapons, has its force structured to simply survive a nuclear attack and then offer one back weeks, or even months later. Nonetheless, the Pentagon's annual report on China said that Beijing trains for strikes on the US using nuclear-capable bombers

    Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said this week that about 300,000 troops and 1,000 aircraft will participate, using all of the training ranges in the country's central and eastern military districts. 

    Beijing has said it will send about 3,200 troops, 30 helicopters, and more than 900 other pieces of military hardware.

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    Type 001A

    • China's first domestically-built carrier hit the waves recently, boosting its naval power as it increasingly rivals the US.
    • China, Russia, India, Thailand, the UK, France, and a host of other European powers all boast aircraft carriers, but they're not all made equal.
    • This post examines the major categories and nationalities of aircraft carriers and weighs their combat power side by side. 

    China recently cemented its status as a first-rate naval power with its first-ever domestically built aircraft carrier hitting the sea for sea trials as its military competition with the US becomes increasingly overt.

    More than ever before, the US now discusses China as a potential enemy in military, and especially naval conflicts. While China's new carrier demonstrates an impressive capacity to quickly build aircraft carriers for power projection, it also displays a very different philosophy of naval warfighting than the US.

    With different objectives for its navy, it makes sense that China would take a different approach to aircraft carriers than the US, but a close examination shows the Chinese effort lacking in key areas. 

    So how does China stack up to other world powers when it comes to aircraft carriers, one of the biggest factors in air and sea dominance?

    Take a look at the photos and graphics below to get an idea of China's carriers compare to the rest of the world:

    SEE ALSO: Every surface ship in the Chinese navy, in one chart

    This is China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. Like much of China's military hardware, the Liaoning is a reworking of an older Russian-made model.

    The Liaoning's particulars and capabilities sound impressive, but it's been in bad shape for years and primarily used as a training vessel. China declared it combat-ready in late 2016, but probably only for limited operations against ground only forces.


    Here's China's newest carrier, so far only known as the Type 001A. It's still based of an old Soviet design, but it's built in China and features some tweaks.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Putin Angry

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin became enraged and conspicuously blundered during the 2015 Minsk Agreement talks with Ukraine, according to a book by former French President Francois Hollande.
    • Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
    • The US, the European Union, and other observers say Russia has slyly used troops posing as Ukrainian separatists to stoke a war there for years.
    • But when Putin was arguing with Ukraine's president, Hollande said, he appeared to slip up and acknowledge the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine.
    • He made other embarrassing blunders at the meeting too, Hollande wrote.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin became so enraged during a shouting match with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that he revealed he was lying about Russia's role in a military uprising in eastern Ukraine, former French President Francois Hollande wrote in a book published earlier this year about his time in office.

    In 2014, Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine and began to support separatists in the eastern part of the country through information warfare, direct shipments of weapons, and the deployment of Russian fighters posing as Ukrainian separatists.

    Experts branded the campaign, for which Russia denied responsibility, as a new form of conflict called hybrid warfare. The strategy involves multidomain fighting, economic pressure, and a distortion of facts on the ground.

    But in a heated argument with Poroshenko at the 2015 talks to form the Minsk Agreement, a document that sought to end the conflict but that Russia has yet to implement, Putin apparently became so angry he tripped up.

    "Poroshenko and Putin constantly raised their voices with each other. The Russian president was so worked up, that he started threatening to decisively crush his counterpart's forces," an excerpt from Hollande's 2018 book, "The Lessons of Power," says, according to a translation by, which writes about Russia and Ukraine.

    "This showed that there are Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. Putin suddenly realized, and got a grip on himself,” Hollande wrote, according to

    But even after Putin got ahold of himself, his narrative continued to unravel, Hollande wrote.

    In Minsk, Poroshenko asserted Ukraine's sovereignty as its leader. Putin would not acknowledge directing any of the separatist forces and constantly had to frame his contributions to the conversation as speculation on what the separatists might say, if they were there.

    Hollande wrote that Putin tried to delay the cease-fire between the fighting sides for weeks. When Hollande and Poroshenko brought up that Russia had been sanctioned as result of the fighting, and not a nebulous group of unnamed fighters, Putin "pretended not to understand or not to hear what we were saying," Hollande wrote.

    “At seven in the morning after a sleepless night," both sides finally struck a deal that Putin could agree to, Hollande wrote. But Putin, maintaining he wasn't in control of the separatists, had to run off, Hollande wrote.

    "Suddenly Putin said that he needed to consult with the separatist leaders. Their emissaries were in Minsk too. Where exactly? In some hotel or in an office neighboring ours? At least we didn’t see them," Hollande wrote.

    Fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, with more than 10,000 dead. Russia still denies any official involvement in the fighting and remains under the sanctions imposed in 2014.

    SEE ALSO: The leader of the Russian-backed republic in Ukraine was just assassinated in a cafe bombing

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    • President Donald Trump on Monday warned Syria, Russia, and Iran against "recklessly attacking" the last rebel stronghold in Syria, but Russia started airstrikes by the next morning.
    • Trump has ordered strikes on Syria in response to chemical-weapons use in the past.
    • But this time Russia looks to have forecast its use and made plans to fight back against a US strike.
    • The US can probably still attack Syria, and Russia wouldn't do anything about it, but hope for Syria's civilians has long gone.
    • Russia, Syria, and Iran seem close to ending the war on their terms.
    • The best the US can offer now is punitive strikes in response to chemical warfare, and thoughts and prayers for the families caught in the cross fire.

    President Donald Trump on Monday warned Syrian President Bashar Assad, Russia, and Iran not to make a "grave humanitarian mistake" by "recklessly attacking" the last rebel stronghold in Syria's seven-year war — but Russia started airstrikes by the next morning.

    Trump's warnings carried echoes of the past two Aprils, when the US acted with missile strikes against Assad in response to information that Syrian or Russian warplanes had used chemical weapons on civilians.

    While chemical attacks credibly linked to Assad have become common in Syria, this time Russia seems intent to fend off further US military intervention with an impressive mass of military assets.

    Russia has a small armada in the Mediterranean conducting military drills. In the air, Russia has long-range and naval aviation drilling to police the skies.

    At the same time, Syrian and Iranian ground forces are preparing to attack Idlib, the last foothold of rebel fighters in the country. Russia, Syria, and Iran hope to end the war with a decisive victory over the rebels in the town. But if history is any indication, the fighting will drag on, and civilians are in danger.

    Russian and Syrian jets have a reputation for carrying out airstrikes that bring many civilian casualties and look indiscriminate at best or like war crimes against hospitals and schools at worst.

    But the US has largely turned a blind eye to civilian suffering in Syria. The international community gave a muted response to Assad's lethal repression of pro-democracy protesters in 2011. By 2015, Russia and Iran had stepped in to back up Assad while killing off a significant share of the rebels considered moderate by the US.

    Today's Syrian conflict takes place mostly between Russian, Syrian, and Iranian forces and jihadist groups with some connection to Al Qaeda.

    But Assad still doesn't have the ground strength to beat the rebels outright, nor the political support to run them out of town after seven years of brutal attacks on his own people.

    So out of those weaknesses, Syria and its Russian backers have repeatedly turned to the horrors of chemical warfare to terrify the Syrian government's enemies.

    And it's there, with chemical weapons, that Trump has responded with missile strikes in the past.

    Russia trying to scare off the US

    Russia Navy Day8

    Russia says that it has knowledge of an impending chemical attack in Idlib but that it will take the form of a US false-flag attack used to justify military intervention in Syria.

    But Russia has made that claim before, and credible reports and inspections consistently link chemical weapons use to Russian or Syrian warplanes rather than anybody else.

    After telegraphing this flashpoint, the Russian navy deployed in impressive numbers to the Mediterranean, where the US has twice fired on Syria.

    By establishing dominance in the eastern Mediterranean, Russia may be trying to ward off another US attack, but this possibly mistakes the nature of US strikes on Syria.

    The US has never made a full-on effort to depose Assad or turn the tide of the war. At this point, seven years into the war, such an effort wouldn't make much sense.

    Instead, neither US strike had much of an impact on Syria's ability to conduct chemical warfare, much less its ability to bomb hospitals or other civilian targets.

    Even with Russia's ships in the Mediterranean, the US, with its impressive airpower in the region, could most likely land a few clean shots on some noncritical targets and again embarrass Syria and Russia, should Assad cross Trump's line.

    Would a humiliated Russia use its state-controlled media to simply try to spin the strikes as a failure, as it has before? Or would it use its unprecedented navy presence in the Mediterranean to attempt to strike back at the US?

    Russia has a worse bark than bite in military retaliation, and has backed down over Syria before, so a full-on war between the world's two biggest nuclear arsenals seems unlikely.

    But Trump is right. Civilian suffering at the hands of Russians, Assad, and Iranians looks inevitable.

    "The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy," Trump tweeted on Monday. "Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don't let that happen!"

    SEE ALSO: Putin made a telling blunder in a shouting match with Ukraine's president, France's Hollande says

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