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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider
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    f 22 arctic badass

    • The US's and Russia's top fighter jets recently ran into each other in the skies near Alaska — and had combat broken out, the Russian jet would have been favored.
    • The US's F-22 doesn't visibly store weapons and relies on stealth, so coming face-to-face with an advanced Russian fighter would put it at a disadvantage.
    • Most incidents in the skies involving the US are communicated in advance and handled professionally, but the rules of engagement leave the US vulnerable to a first strike.

    US F-22 stealth fighter jets intercepted Russian Tu-95 nuclear-capable bombers and Su-35 fighters that approached Alaska on Tuesday, and it highlights a downside to the US's top fighter jets.

    The F-22, with its incredible acrobatic abilities in the air and all-aspect stealth cloaking it from enemies at a distance, is the US's most lethal combat plane.

    While the F-35 was built as a flying quarterback that can dogfight, bomb ground targets, gather intelligence, or conduct surveillance, the F-22 specializes in one thing: air-to-air combat.

    But with today's rules of engagement, the F-22's huge advantages in stealth mean little.

    During an intercept, a jet pulls up next to the plane that has invaded its airspace and tells the plane, via radio, some version of "turn around, or this will escalate."

    At this time, it's customary for the jet to tilt its wings and show the intruder a wing full of missiles. But the F-22 could never do that; because of its stealth design, the F-22 stores all missiles and bombs internally.

    A pilot intruding into US or US-protected airspace who meets an F-22 really has no idea whether the jet is armed. The Russian Su-35 holds more missiles than the F-22, and it holds them where everyone can see.

    On top of that, if a routine interception were to turn kinetic, the F-22 would start the battle at a huge disadvantage.

    Stealth advantage negated

    Sukhoi su-35

    If a fight were to start during an intercept like the one this week, the Russian pilot would have the huge advantage of having the F-22 in sight. What's more, the Russian Su-35 can maneuver better than the F-22.

    Retired Lt. Col. David "Chip" Berke, the only US Marine to fly both the F-22 and the F-35, previously told Business Insider that with the F-22, "my objective wouldn't be to get in a turning fight" with an adversary. Instead, Berke said, he would use the F-22's natural advantages of stealth to avoid the dogfight.

    But just because Russia's Su-35 can turn better and has more missiles doesn't mean it would automatically win a dogfight that broke out from an interception. The capabilities of the F-22 and of its pilots, who stand among the Air Force's best, would surely give it a chance in such a fight.

    Justin Bronk, an expert on combat airpower at the Royal United Services Institute, previously told Business Insider that fifth-generation fighters like the F-22, with its internal weapons stores and reliance on stealth, and the F-35 were "not really necessary" for interceptions and that "other, cheaper interceptors can do the job."

    The real risk

    putin trump helsinki

    The US frequently intercepts Russian jets that fly near US airspace, and it almost always happens in a safe and professional way. The US and Russia have their differences and today have building tensions due to conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, but a fight between the world's two greatest nuclear powers wouldn't be a decision taken lightly.

    In Syria, where Russian and US jets operate in close quarters, the two maintain a deconfliction line and call each other to alert the other side to inbound jets to avoid clashes.

    But the way the US Air Force designed the F-22 to get its kills from concealment and at a great distance puts it at a disadvantage when performing a possibly contentious intercept.

    Bronk told Business Insider that for that reason, the F-15, an older jet, would make a better interceptor.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    air force

    • The US Air Force set out to return to Cold War numbers by growing nearly 25% and taking on hundreds more planes to form an additional 74 squadrons, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced Monday.
    • The US military is in the middle of a giant pivot towards confronting Russia and China, near-peer military powers that must be countered with big, advanced forces.
    • Part of that means growing the Air Force and Navy massively while innovating new platforms.
    • The military seems clear on the need for more numbers and power, but it's not clear where the money is yet. 

    The US Air Force set out to return to Cold War numbers by growing nearly 25% and taking on hundreds more planes to form an additional 74 squadrons, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced on Monday.

    The US Air Force, which typically acquires aircraft only after long vetting and bidding processes, will attempt the radical change in short order to fulfill President Donald Trump's vision of a bigger military to take on Russia and China.

    In the US's new National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and Nuclear Posture Review, the Trump administration redefined the US's foremost enemies not as rogue groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda, but China and Russia.

    While the US has fought counter insurgencies against small terror groups and non-state actors nonstop since September 11, 2001, the resurgence of an aggressive Russia now at war in Ukraine and Syria, and the emergence of China now unilaterally attempting to dominate the South China Sea, has renewed the US military's focus on winning massive wars.

    The US Navy has announced similar plans to grow its fleet size by nearly a third and shift tactics to better challenge Russia and China.

    But now the Air Force plans to grow in all directions at once, with more space, cyberwarfare, logistical support, drones, tankers, and combat aviation all at once.

    What the Air Force wants

    us air force 386 squadrons

    This chart shows how many new squadrons the Air Force wants and how they'll be distributed. The Air Force announced a goal of 386 squadrons, up from 312. Depending on the airframe, a squadron can have 8-24 planes.

    For the bomber squadrons, which include nuclear capable bombers like the B-52 and B-2, that number will grow only slightly and likely include the mysterious new B-21 Raider bomber, which no one has ever seen outside classified circles. 

    In the fighter jet department, it's likely F-35s will comprise most of this growth. Aerial tankers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, likely drones, will also see a big bump.

    The Air Force hopes to build the force up to 386 squadrons by 2030, but has not provided any information on how it plans to fund the venture. The US Air Force has requested $156 billion for next fiscal year, already a six percent bump over the previous year. While Wilson promised to streamline acquisition, which famously can take years and cost billions, there's real doubts about how fast the organization can move. The US Air Force started working on the F-22 in 1981. It first flew in 1997 and first went into combat in 2014. The F-35 started in 2001 and just last year experienced its first combat in Israel's service.

    Additionally, the move would require the Air Force to bring on about 40,000 new people at a time when the force has a near crippling problem with retaining top talent

    "We are not naive about the budget realities," Wilson said at the Air Force's annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference. “At the same time, we think we owe our countrymen an honest answer on what is required to protect the vital, national interests of this country under the strategy we have been given, and so we believe this is, if not the perfect answer, it is an honest answer to that question: What is the Air Force we need?"

    Growing China threat


    Currently, China's military is in the midst of building up a tremendous air force and navy while also threatening some of the US's core interests and most promising technologies. 

    The biggest US Air Force defense projects involve stealth aircraft, like the B-21 and F-35. As of yet unpublished research on China's military reviewed by Business Insider found Chinese fighter aircraft now number around 1,610 compared to about 1,960 US fighters. 

    China has made strides towards quantum radars designed to negate the US stealth advantage as well as a stealth fighter of its own, the J-20. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Putin navy military russia

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin backed off the Russian Defense Ministry's threats to take "countermeasures" against Israel after Syrian air defenses shot down a Russian military plane over the Mediterranean.
    • Putin called the downing of an Il-20 spy plane and its 15 crew members "the result of a chain of tragic and chance circumstances,"Reuters notes
    • The Russian plane went down after Syria, its ally, fired air defense missiles at Israeli jets attacking what Israel called munitions depots in the country. 

    Russian President Vladimir Putin backed off Russian Defense Ministry threats to take "countermeasures" against Israel after Syrian air defenses shot down a Russian military plane over the Mediterranean.

    Speaking at a joint press conference with Hungarian President Viktor Orban, Putin called the downing of an Il-20 spy plane and its 15 crew members "the result of a chain of tragic and chance circumstances,"Reuters notes

    Earlier, Russia's defense ministry had blamed Israel for purposefully setting up the plane's downing by flying a specific route that drew Syrian air defense fire towards the Russians.

    "The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air-defense forces," Russian media reported the Russian Defense Ministry as saying. "As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile."

    "As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished. This absolutely does not correspond to the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership," the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian state media, Reuters noted.

    "We reserve the right to take commensurate measures in response," Konashenkov said.

    But Putin's comments next to Orban seem to downplay the possibility that Russia would strike back against Israel. Putin acknowledged on Tuesday the accidental nature of the plane's downing and said it didn't compare to the 2015 incident when Turkey shot down a Russian jet in combat. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    us military valiant shield pacific ronald reagan

    • The US military just did a drill in the Pacific that brought together nuclear bombers, next-generation stealth fighters, an aircraft carrier, and ballistic missile defense.
    • These represent what a real war against Beijing in the South China Sea would require.
    • China has built a larger navy than the US and missiles specifically designed to sink aircraft carriers, but there's no indication it can actually operate as expected in a combat environment. 

    Beijing's navy has grown to outnumber the US as it focuses on locking down the South China Sea with increasingly aggressive deployments of missiles, fighter jets, and even nuclear-capable bombers, but a picture from a recent US military exercise shows that the US still has the edge. 

    China has turned out new warships at a blinding speed the US can't currently hope to match as well as a massive arsenal of "carrier killer" missiles with US aircraft carrier's names all but written on them. Meanwhile, the US fleet has dwindled and aged.

    US allies have started to openly question whether the US can defend against the rising Beijing, but while China holds major advantages on paper, wars don't get fought on paper. 

    The US military recently pulled together Valiant Shield 18, the US-only follow-up to the multi-national RIMPAC naval drill, which is the biggest in the world. The drill saw the US's forward-deployed USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, 15 surface ships, and 160 aircraft coordinate joint operations — something China sorely lacks.

    China's navy poses a threat with its massive size and long range missiles, but it's unclear if China can combine operations seamlessly with its air force, army, or rocket force. The US regularly trains towards that goal and has firmed up those skills in real war fighting.

    And while China has cooked up new "carrier killer" missiles that no doubt can deliver a knockout blow to US aircraft carriers, everyone has a plan until they get hit. On paper, China's missiles outrange US aircraft carriers highest-endurance fighters, but this concept of A2/AD (anti-access/area-denial) hasn't been tested.

    "A2/AD is sort of an aspiration. In actual execution, it's much more difficult,"  US Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson said in 2016. "Our response would be to inject a lot of friction into that system at every step of the way [and] look to make that much more difficult." 

    In the above picture, the Reagan leads a carrier strike group full of guided-missile destroyers, supply ships for long hauls, and a B-52 nuclear capable bomber flying overhead.

    B-52s with cruise missiles can reach out and touch China from standoff ranges. US F-15 fighter jets in South Korea could launch long-range munitions at missile launch sites before the carriers even got close. US Marine Corps F-35Bs, which made their debut at this year's exercise, can slip in under the radar and squash any threats. 

    For the missiles that do make it through the US's fingers, each US carrier sails with guided-missile destroyers purposely built to take down ballistic missiles. 

    The US recently completed a missile interception test with Japan, where a Japanese destroyer with US technology shot down a ballistic missile in flight. The US can also count on South Korea, Australia, and increasingly India to take a stand against Beijing.

    In a brief but illuminating interview, US Navy Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, the then-head of the US Navy's Surface Forces, told Defense News the difference between a US Navy ship and a Chinese navy ship:

    "One of them couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag and the other one will rock anything that it comes up against."

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Russia Tu-160 bomber

    • The UK and France scrambled fighter jets to respond to a massive fleet of Russian nuclear bombers that approached Scotland on Thursday.
    • The fleet included three Tu-160 supersonic bombers and three Tu-95 propeller driven bombers with refueling tankers along for the long-distance haul.
    • The European jets confronted the Russian bombers in the North Sea and they changed course.
    • Russia regularly probes the airspace of other countries with nuclear-capable bombers.

    The UK and France scrambled fighter jets to respond to a massive fleet of Russian nuclear bombers that approached Scotland on Thursday.

    Military flight radar trackers spotted an unusually large number of Russian nuclear bombers taking off from bases in the country's east early on Thursday and tracked them as they flew above Scandinavia and down into North Sea towards the UK.

    The fleet included three Tu-160 supersonic bombers and three Tu-95 propeller driven bombers with refueling tankers along for the long-distance haul.

    UK and French jets flew out to greet the bombers. Business Insider observed flight radar trackers as the incident unfolded. Ultimately the Russian bombers turned away and the European jets returned home. The Russian bombers did not appear to enter UK airspace. 

    Typically the UK scrambles its own fighters to respond to potential breaches of airspace, so the inclusion of French jets may suggest some abnormality in the incident.

    Together the six Russian bombers represent a massive array of air power. Both bombers can carry anti-ship and nuclear missiles in large enough numbers to punch a serious hole in UK or European defenses. 

    Russia regularly uses its bombers to probe the airspace of its neighbors and possibly gauge response time to aide in planning for potential future conflicts. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    f-22 f22 raptor inherent resolve arabian sea

    • An unofficial account of a Russian pilot of the Su-35, Russia's top jet fighter, posted pictures claiming to show a US F-22 Raptor stealth jet flying above Syria as proof that his older, bigger jet can kill it.
    • The Su-35 pilot said it locked on to the F-22 in a mock fight in which the "arrogant" US pilot lost. 
    • Even if the pictures are real, it doesn't prove the Su-35 has any combat advantage over the F-22.
    • The Pentagon told Business Insider it had heard nothing of the incident, casting doubt on Russia's trustworthiness in these matters. 

    An unofficial account of a retired Russian pilot of an Su-35, Russia's top jet fighter, posted pictures claiming to show a US F-22 Raptor stealth jet flying in the skies above Syria as proof that his older, bigger jet can outflank it.

    The picture shows an F-22 in flight on what looks broadly like an image produced by an infrared search and track (IRST) system, which the Su-35 houses in its nose cone area and looks for heat, not radar cross section, potentially helping it find stealth aircraft at close ranges.

    The pilot claims to have spotted the F-22, which has all-aspect stealth and is virtually invisible to traditional radars, during combat operations in Syria.

    After describing at length how these encounters usually go (there are dedicated lines of communication used to avoid conflict between Russia and the US as they operate in close proximity over Syria), the author claims to have "locked" on to the F-22.

    A Business Insider translation of part of the caption reads: "F-22 was arrogant and was punished after a short air battle, for which of course it got f-----."

    F-22 "Raptor". Что для вас "партнёрские"взаимоотношения? Лично для меня, и в воздухе, и в постели это значит, что кто-то кого-то трахает. Причём если в постели это как-бы минимум дружеские взаимоотношения, то в воздухе, это нечто совсем иное. Все партнёрские взаимоотношения предусматривают лишь некий договор не стрелять по "партнёру". Не стрелять боевым оружием. При этом мешать выполнить боевую задачу, если она не выгодна партнёрам, тебе будут всеми способами. Таких способов миллион. Самый банальный, это постановка помех радиосвязи и средствам навигации. Это самый мирный и гуманный способ. Могут пересекать твой боевой курс на минимальных интервалах и дистанциях сбивая тебя спутняком от двигателей. Могут обоссать сливом топлива, могут обстрелять ППИшками. Могут включить все прицелы и имитировать атаки, с выходом из атаки в последний момент. Могут на твоей высоте в лоб запустить парочку беспилотников. А уж станция предупреждения об облучении у тебя будет орать постоянно, даже на сомневайся. И если файтербомберы могут ответить тем-же, то разведке, штурмовикам и бомберам приходится несладко. Поэтому им помогают файтеры и файтербомберы. Они всеми способами делают выполнение боевой задачи своими подопечными возможным. На фото F-22 "Raptor"в прицеле нашего Су-35с. "ОЛС+ТП". В захвате. Да 22й хамил и был наказан после непродолжительного воздушного боя, за который конечно нашего синегрудого трахнули. Все как обычно. Как видите замечательно захватывается и стелс. Да можем. Да не всегда всё получается, но если надо будет - сделаем. #bomberchronics #russianmilitary #aviator #aviation #авиация #вксроссии #aircraft #airforce #jet #avgeek #russiaairforce #avporn #aviationlovers #aviation4u #pilot #aviationgeek #aviationlover #airplane #fighterjet #fighterpilot #piloteyes #militaryaviation #aviationphotography #planes #f22

    A post shared by Ivan Ivanov (@fighter_bomber_) on Sep 23, 2018 at 10:03pm PDT on

    Russia has long mocked the US's stealth jets and claimed its ability to defeat them in combat. But while Russia can spot US stealth jets by looking for heat, and not radar signature, that's very different from being able to shoot them down. 

    Even if the images posted by the Russians are genuine, "it doesn’t alone suggest that the Su-35S is reliably capable of detecting and intercepting the F-22," Justin Bronk, an air combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider.

    "Furthermore, the F-22 will have been aware of the Su-35’s presence since the latter took off so it isn’t really any indication of a diminishment of the F-22’s combat advantage," he said.

    F-22 raptor thermal image

    "IRST systems can be used to detect and potentially track stealth aircraft under specific conditions," Bronk said. But that "doesn’t mean that they are anything approaching a satisfactory solution to the problem of fighting against such targets as they have limited range compared to radar, and are vulnerable to environmental disruption and degradation," he added.

    In essence, he said, an F-22 would have seen the Su-35 long before the Russians saw the American, and the S-35 likely only spotted the F-22 because it flew up close in the first place. 

    Bronk previously described looking for fifth-generation aircraft in the open skies with IRST as being like "looking through a drinking straw." 

    Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Business Insider that he was "unable to verify the claims made on Instagram," but pointed out that "Russia has been conducting a concentrated disinformation campaign in Syria to sow confusion and undercut US and allied efforts there."

    US pilots can tell when their jets have been targeted by enemy weapons, so they would know if the Su-35 pilot established the "lock" he had claimed to. 

    Russian media has since picked up the Instagram story, running it with analysis that suggests the Su-35 may be able to defeat the F-22. 

    SEE ALSO: Here's why thermal imaging can't stop the F-22 or the F-35

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    israeli air force formation blue flag israel

    • Russia announced on Monday it would send its advanced S-300 missile defense systems to Syria after losing a spy plane to errant Syrian air defense fire.
    • Russia will now reportedly staff Syrian air defenses to avoid such shoot-downs in the future, but this puts them in harm's way.
    • Israel regularly bombs Syrian air defenses, and if they kill Russians, it could quickly escalate into war.
    • The US also sometimes strikes Syria, raising the stakes all round of a meltdown in the conflict. 

    Russia announced on Monday it would send its advanced S-300 missile defense systems to Syria after it lost a spy plane to errant Syrian air defense fire— but the new set-up puts Israel at high risk of killing Russians and starting a war. 

    Russia blames Israel for Syria, its own ally, firing a Russian-made air defense missile that missed Israeli jets attacking Syria and instead killed 15 Russian servicemen on an Il-20 spy plane

    According to Russia, Israeli F-16s flew in low under the Il-20 to either shield themselves from air defense fire or make Syrian air defenses, which use outdated technology, shoot down the bigger, easier to spot Il-20 rather than the sleeker F-16s. 

    Whether or not Israel purposefully used the Il-20 to its advantage remains an open question. But it exposed a glaring flaw in Syrian and Russian military cooperation, which Moscow is due to close with the S-300.

    Russians hit the front lines, and Israel won't back off

    S 300

    According to Nikolai Sokov, a Senior Fellow at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterrey, the Russians will now sit on-site at Syrian air defense sites, which Israel frequently bombs.

    Syria's current air defenses lack the highly-classified signal Russian planes send to their own air defenses to identify them as friendly. Without this secret sign from the flying Il-20, Syria mistook it for an enemy, and shot it down.

    If Russia could simply give Syria the signal and fix the problem, it would have likely done so already. But if Syria somehow leaked the signal, the US or NATO could trick all Russian air defenses into their fighters were friendly Russian jets, leaving Russia open to attack, according to Sokov. 

    "The S-300 systems Russia plans to supply to Syria will feature a compromise solution," said Sokov. "They will be fully equipped to distinguish Russian aircraft... but there will be Russian personnel present at controls."

    Israel has admitted to more than 200 air strikes within Syria in the last two years. These strikes have killed more than 100 Iranian fighters in Syria in the last month alone, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports

    Frequently, Syria responds to these strikes with air defense fire against Israeli fighter jets. In February, Syria succeeded in downing an Israeli F-16. Israel responded with a sweeping attack it claimed knocked out half of Syria's air defenses.

    Trends point to a big fight

    F 16 Israel Crash

    Iran has pledged to wipe Israel off the map, and has for decades tried to achieve that by transferring weapons across the Middle East to Israel's neighbors, like Lebanon where Hezbollah holds power. 

    Israel has vowed in return to destroy Iranian weapons shipments wherever it finds them. In the past, Israel has struck Iranian uniformed personnel, munitions depots, and Iranian-backed militias. 

    In short, Israeli strikes that require air defense suppression (such as blowing up Russian-made air defenses in Syria) will not stop any time soon, judging by Israel and Iran's ongoing positions. 

    But now, when Israel knocks down a Syrian air defense site, it runs the risk of killing Russian servicemen. When Israel kills Syrians, Syria complains and may fire some missiles back, but its military is too weak and distracted by a seven-year-long civil war to do much about it.

    If Israel kills Russians, then Russia's large navy and aviation presence could mobilize very quickly against Israel, which has fierce defenses of its own.

    "Obviously, this seriously constrains not just Israeli, but also US operations in case of possible bombing of Syria," Sokov said of the new Russian-staffed S-300.

    "Not only Syrian air defense will become more capable, but it will be necessary to keep in mind the presence of Russian operators at the Syrian air defense systems."

    So next time Israel or the US decides to strike Syria, it may not only find stiffer-than-usual resistance, it might find itself in a quickly escalating battle with one of the world's greatest military powers.  

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    • The US military again flew B-52 nuclear capable bombers through the South China Sea, refusing to back down to China's claims over the waterway.
    • China strongly protests any US military presence in the South China Sea, but lately the US isn't paying any attention to them.
    • The US has picked up sailing and flying through the region at such a high frequency that it's not even unusual anymore, meaning they've won a battle over the South China Sea's narrative without firing a shot. 

    The US military has stepped up to regularly challenge Beijing's dominance in the South China Sea and has achieved one of its main missions — controlling the narrative — with the help of B-52 nuclear-capable bombers.

    For years, Beijing has laid unilateral and illegal claims to about 90% of the South China Sea, a rich shipping lane where trillions of dollars in annual trade pass and untold billions in oil resources lie. 

    Through environmentally damaging dredging, China built up island fortresses around the waterway.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping stood next to former President Barack Obama in the White House's Rose Garden and promised not to militarize the islands. But China has flown its own nuclear bombers, fighter jets, and other military aviation to the artificial land features that now hold radar and missile sites.

    The US's main way of challenging China's claims to these waters have been freedom of navigation operations, or sailing a US Navy destroyer close to the islands to show that its military doesn't respect Beijing's claims, as they violate international law.

    "US military aircraft, you have violated our China sovereignty and infringed on our security and our rights. You need to leave immediately and keep far out," a recent Chinese warning blared to the US, according to The New York Times.

    China built not only islands, but its own narrative insisting on its ownership of the South China Sea. Any US military flights in the South China Sea used to make prominent news because Beijing would heavily object using its substantial media clout.

    In August, the US flew B-52s over the South China Sea four times. 

    "Is the US trying to exert more pressure on China's trade by sending a B-52 bombers to the South China Sea?" China's nationalist, state-affiliated tabloid Global Times asked at the time.

    But on Monday, the US flew four B-52s clear across the South China Sea with hardly a peep from US or Chinese media. 

    Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, told Business Insider the B-52 flights were a matter of course.

    "The movement of these aircraft require them to fly multiple routes, to include in the vicinity of the South China Sea, part of regularly scheduled operations designed to enhance our interoperability with our partners and allies in the region. The United States military will continue to fly sail and operate wherever international law allows at a times and places of our choosing," Eastburn said in an email. 

    By making US military transit across the South China Sea a non-news item, something that happens regularly and without incident, the US has started to turn the tide against China's unilateral claims. 

    By declaring the South China Sea as its own and trying to pressure the US into backing down in the face of missiles and fighter jets, Beijing may have opened itself up to being challenged by a superior force. 

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    china navy

    • China denounced the US's routine flight of B-52 nuclear capable bombers across the Pacific on Thursday, calling it a "provocative" step that it would take measures against. 
    • China warned its countermeasures could include further militarization of the South China Sea, at a time when US and Chinese military relations are deteriorating.
    • The US and China have been involved in a prolonged diplomatic tit-for-tat which has seen tensions rise as both countries remain determined to assert their will on South China Sea. 

    China denounced the US's routine flight of B-52 nuclear capable bombers across the Pacific on Thursday, calling it a "provocative" step that it would take measures against. 

    "As for the provocative action taken by the US military aircraft, we are firmly against it and we will take all necessary means to safeguard our rights and interests," Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said of the repeated flights of B-52s in the region, the Associated Press notes

    The US has an air base in Guam, in the Western Pacific, as well as at Diego Garcia, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean.

    US Air Force assets, including B-52 bombers, regularly fly across the Pacific between the two bases.

    But China's has dredged up the ocean floor to build artificial islands with military features like missile launchers and runways big enough for large bombers, and laid unilateral claim to the entire waterway. 

    With anti-air missiles, fighter jets, and its navy asserting Beijing's dominance of the South China Sea, an important international waterway crammed with natural resources and home to $3 trillion in shipping trade each year, China now regularly complains of any navy entering the region.

    US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said of China's complaints"If it was 20 years ago and had they not militarized those features there it would have been just another bomber on its way to Diego Garcia or wherever... There's nothing out of the ordinary about it." 

    maritime boundary claims in south china sea map

    But China's response has been out of the ordinary. China recently denied the USS Wasp, a US Navy amphibious assault ship, a port call in Hong Kong.

    Part of the likely context is that the US recently agreed to sell Taiwan, which China considers a rogue province, $330 million in military hardware. 

    This exchange followed the US sanctioning a Chinese military organ for buying Russian military equipment. When the US announced the sanctions, China withdrew a military representative from bilateral talks.

    Both the US and China agree that military-to-military communication represents a key tool for de-escalating increasingly frequent military incidents. But under the auspices of a mounting trade war and the unceasing pace of US military moves across the Pacific, those communications have become strained. 

    "China and the US are facing their most serious diplomatic confrontations and crisis in decades, and their military relations will be affected for a long time," Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at Renmin University in Beijing told the South China Morning Post.

    “The two militaries may want to keep up a certain level of exchanges to stop the confrontations from escalating, but there is also a possibility that the impact on military exchanges may worsen the diplomatic tension,” he said.

    China has increased its military deployments to islands in the South China Sea over the last three years. But the US hasn't been shy about flexing its muscle in the region either. The US recently showed its B-52s can lay deadly naval mines from high altitudes and standoff ranges.

    Frequent multi-national naval drills in the waters reinforce the idea that China's neighbors, not just the US, oppose the unilateral land grab and stand to do something about it.

    If China finds the flight of B-52s "provocative," it may move to deploy even more missiles and air assets to the region in a slow simmering buildup that looks ready to turn the world's two largest navies against each other. 

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    b 2 spirit pearl harbor.JPG

    • The US Air Force recently completed a first-of-its-kind training exercise involving B-2 Spirit nuclear-capable bombers and F-22 Raptor fighter jets, two of the stealthiest aircraft in the world.
    • B-2s had never operated out of Pearl Harbor before, but within weeks they found themselves taking off from tiny atolls and practicing new tactics for war in the Pacific.
    • The training comes as China increasingly uses its military to try to back the US out of the South China Sea and as military relations disintegrate.
    • The US Air Force clearly intended to show China it wouldn't back down on its forays into the South China Sea, which the US and allies see as international waters.

    The US Air Force recently completed a first-of-its-kind training exercise involving the stealthiest aircraft in the world in a massive show of force meant to demonstrate the US's commitment to bucking down a rising China in the Pacific.

    B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri took the long flight out to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii for the first time starting in September.

    And while the B-2s familiarized themselves with their new home, they took off for training missions with ultra-stealth F-22 Raptor fighter jets from the Hawaii Air National Guard.

    maritime boundary claims in south china sea map

    "The B-2 Spirits' first deployment to [Pearl Harbor] highlights its strategic flexibility to project power from anywhere in the world," Maj. Gen. Stephen Williams, the US Air Force's director of air and cyberspace operations in the Pacific, said in a statement.

    "The B-2s conducted routine air operations and integrated capabilities with key regional partners, which helped ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific," Williams said. "The US routinely and visibly demonstrates commitment to our allies and partners through global employment and integration of our military forces."

    The US recently started calling the Pacific the "Indo-Pacific" in what was widely seen as a slight against China. Addressing "free and open" travel there seems to needle Beijing over its ambitions to determine who can sail or fly in what Washington and allies see as the international waters of the South China Sea.

    But beyond the rhetorical messages, flying B-2s and F-22s together sends a clear military message: You can't hit what you can't see.

    The US doesn't have any bigger guns — this is the real deal

    F 22 Raptor

    Despite the B-2's massive size, its stealth design and lack of vertical stabilizers make it almost invisible to radars. The F-22 also benefits from all-aspect stealth and a marble-sized footprint on radar screens.

    Together, the nuclear-capable B-2 and the world-beating F-22 fighter jet represent a force that could go anywhere in the world, beat any defenses, drop nuclear or conventional heavy payloads, and get out of harm's way.

    China has sought to defend the South China Sea with surface-to-air missiles and large radar installations, but the B-2 and F-22 have specific tactics and features designed to defeat those.

    Additionally, the Air Force tweaked the old tactics used by the Cold-War era stealth airframes to show a new look entirely.

    Instead of simply taking off and landing from Pearl Harbor, a known base and likely target for Chinese missiles in the opening salvo of a conflict, a B-2 trained on something called "hot reloading" from a smaller base on a coral limestone atoll in the mid-Pacific called Wake Island.

    Wake Island

    There, specialists refueled the B-2 and reloaded its bomb bays while the engines still ran, enabling a lightning-quick turnaround thousands of miles out from Pearl Harbor and into the Pacific.

    "We flew to a forward operating location that the B-2 had never operated out of and overcame numerous challenges," Lt. Col. Nicholas Adcock, the commander of the Air Force Global Strike 393rd Bomber Squadron, said in the statement.

    While Beijing increasingly takes a militaristic line toward Washington, which is trying to preserve freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the US Air Force made the purpose of its new training explicit: to "to ensure free, open Indo-Pacific" with stealth nuclear bombers and fighter jets purpose-built to counter Beijing's South China Sea fortress.

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    NOW WATCH: 7 outdoor adventures that are worth the hike

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    navy photo light adjusted naw mean

    For 243 years, the US Navy has been the most visible part of America's military might, visiting far-flung ports of call and operating all over the world.  

    To celebrate the US Navy, we've pulled out some of the coolest photos from the archives.

    SEE ALSO: 32 powerful pictures of the US Marines through history

    In the decades after the Civil War, America began a new era of foreign intervention with the Navy leading the way. This 1899 photo shows sailors eating on the USS Olympia, which was the US's flagship during the Spanish-American War of the previous year.

    The USS Holland, seen in this photo from 1900, was the Navy's first commissioned submarine.

    President Theodore Roosevelt ordered a fleet of US ships to circumnavigate the globe from 1907-1909.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    f-22 tyndall damange

    • The US Air Force sustained a massive blow to its fleet of stealth fighters in October as a powerful hurricane possibly destroyed several F-22s and as an F-35 crash grounded the entire fleet of Joint Strike Fighters.
    • As many as 17 F-22 Raptors may have been destroyed in Hurricane Michael, though the Air Force now says the damage wasn't as bad as previously thought.
    • F-35s have started to take back to the skies, but others remain grounded amid a fleetwide inspection.
    • Even if all F-35s and F-22s turn out fine, the losses at Tyndall Air Force Base, where stealth fighter training takes place, represent a huge setback to US air dominance on par with losing a big battle.

    The US Air Force sustained a massive blow to its fleet of stealth fighters in October as a powerful hurricane possibly destroyed several F-22s and as an F-35 crash grounded the entire fleet of Joint Strike Fighters.

    An investigation into an F-35B crash in September led the Pentagon to ground all F-35s until it could determine whether there was a defect in the fuel lines.

    Then last week Hurricane Michael, the most powerful storm of its kind to hit Florida in about 50 years, devastated Tyndall Air Force Base, all but wiping it off the map.

    "Tyndall has been destroyed," Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida told The Panama City News Herald on Sunday.

    "The older buildings will have to be razed and rebuilt," he added. "The newer structures on the base that have survived the monster storm will need substantial repairs."

    Initial reports indicated that up to 17 F-22s might have been damaged beyond repair. That number represents about 10% of all existing F-22s, which the US relies on for air dominance against top-tier enemies.

    Pentagon photos showed that destruction at the base affected every aircraft hangar, including one holding F-22s that was severely damaged.

    But Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a joint statement on Sunday that the damage "was less than we feared" and that "preliminary indications are promising."

    It remains unclear exactly how many F-22s, if any, were damaged in the storm. But with Tyndall in ruins and the military families living there displaced indefinitely, the fighter training program at that critical base appears to have suffered a serious blow.

    "It will take time to recover but we've been through this before and our Airmen are up to the challenge," Wilson's statement said. "Tyndall leadership will continue working hard to get information to airmen and families and all those displaced. We will be working detailed plans in the days ahead to tackle and overcome the challenges. We will get through this together."

    Meanwhile, the F-35B downing in September most likely caused the US Navy's USS Essex to enter the Persian Gulf, where white-hot tensions with Iran have frequently produced military threats and harassment without working fighters. All F-35s aboard the Essex are up and running, the Marine Corps Times reported on Friday.

    Already, F-35s around the globe have taken back to the skies after passing inspection. The Joint Program Office in charge of F-35 integration did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for an exact quote of how many remain grounded.

    In another unrelated freak accident, a Belgian air force mechanic accidentally unloaded an F-16 fighter's Vulcan cannon into another F-16, which immediately burned to an irreparable crisp.

    Lasting damage at Tyndall

    Two F-22 Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron, 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., fly in formation and conduct training operations with two Royal Norwegian air force F-35A Lightning II aircraft during an air refueling over Norway, Aug. 15, 2018.

    Taken in total, the US has suffered grievous blows to its top-of-the-line fighters' readiness, particularly with losses at Tyndall that could set the F-22 community back considerably even if a single jet hasn't been damaged or destroyed.

    Without the hangars in working order, and with much of the base's personnel displaced, Tyndall's role as a critical training hub for pilots the US needs for air-to-air battles and protecting high-value air assets can't continue there, though part of Tyndall's functions could most likely be taken on by nearby Eglin or other air bases.

    But September and October have seen the US Air Force hit by freak accidents and severe weather causing damage that seems to have crippled the force more than enemy fire has in decades.

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    NOW WATCH: 'Game of Thrones' star Maisie Williams has left Arya Stark behind to help fight nepotism in the arts industries

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    Admiral Kuznetsov

    • Russia's only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, sustained massive damage from a 70-ton crane falling on it after an accident at a shipyard, Russian media reports.
    • The Kuznetsov, a Soviet-era ship already known for having serious problems, now has a massive 214 square foot hole in its hull after a power supply issue flooded its dry dock and sent a crane crashing down against it. 
    • Russian media cited sources as saying the hole wasn't a big deal and could be quickly fixed, but the Kuznetsov has long had serious operational problems. 

    Russia's only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, sustained massive damage from a 70-ton crane falling on it after an accident at a shipyard, Russian media reports.

    The Kuznetsov, a Soviet-era ship already known for having serious problems, now has a massive 214 square foot hole in its hull after a power supply issue flooded its dry dock and sent a crane crashing down against it. 

    "The crane that fell left a hole 4 by 5 meters. But at the same time ... these are structures that are repaired easily and quickly,"  Alexei Rakhamnov, the head of Russia's United Shipbuilding Corporation, told Russian media. 

    "Of course when a 70-tonne crane falls on deck, it will cause harm," Rakhmanov continued, according to the BBC. "But according to our initial information, the damage from the falling crane and from the ship listing when the dock sank is not substantial."

    The aircraft carrier had been in dry dock for total overhaul slated to finish in 2020 after a disastrous deployment to support Syrian President Bashar Assad saw it lose multiple aircraft into the Mediterranean and bellow thick black smoke throughout its journey.

    The Kuznetsov rarely sails without a tugboat nearby, as it suffers from propulsion issues. 

    Russia has planned to build a new aircraft carrier that would be the world's largest to accommodate a navalized version of its new Su-57 fighter jet. However the Su-57 may never see serial production, and only 10 of them exist today.

    Analysts who spoke to Business Insider say the use-case for the Su-57 doesn't make sense, and they doubt that it will become adapted to carrier launch and takeoff.

    Russia frequently announces plans to create next-generation weapons and ships, but its budget shortfalls have caused it to cut even practical systems from production.

    As Russia has no considerable overseas territories, it's unclear why it would need a massive aircraft carrier.

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    NOW WATCH: The true story behind Boston gangster Whitey Bulger

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    A Houthi fighter rides on the back of a truck as clashes with forces loyal to Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh continue in Sanaa, Yemen December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

    • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Tuesday for a cessation of hostilities in Yemen and said U.N.-led negotiations to end the civil war should begin next month.
    • Pompeo said missile and drone strikes by Iran-allied Houthi rebels against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should stop, and the Saudi-led coalition must cease air strikes in all populated areas of Yemen.
    • Pompeo said last month that he had certified to the U.S. Congress that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were working to reduce civilian casualties in Yemen, but has now changed course. 

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Tuesday for a cessation of hostilities in Yemen and said U.N.-led negotiations to end the civil war should begin next month.

    In a statement, Pompeo said missile and drone strikes by Iran-allied Houthi rebels against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should stop, and the Saudi-led coalition must cease air strikes in all populated areas of Yemen.

    Yemen is one of the poorest Arab countries and faces the world's worst humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by a nearly four-year-old war that pits the Houthis against the internationally recognized government backed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the West.

    "The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates," Pompeo said, using an acronym for unmanned aerial vehicles.

    "Subsequently, Coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen," he added.

    The United States helps the coalition by refueling its jets and providing training in targeting. Pompeo said last month that he had certified to the U.S. Congress that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were working to reduce civilian casualties in Yemen.

    Three-quarters of Yemen's population, or 22 million people, require aid and 8.4 million people are on the brink of starvation.

    U.N. special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said earlier this month that the United Nations hoped to resume consultations between the warring sides by November.

    Both Pompeo and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis voiced support for the U.N. effort.

    Mattis, addressing a forum in Washington on Tuesday, defended U.S. efforts to help reduce casualties by the Saudi-led coalition and said all sides needed to take meaningful steps toward a ceasefire and negotiations in the next 30 days.

    Mattis added that the Saudis and Emiratis appeared ready to embrace efforts by Griffiths to find a negotiated solution to the conflict.

    “We’ve got to move toward a peace effort here. And we can’t say we’re going to do it sometime in the future. We need to be doing this in the next 30 days,” Mattis said.

    Pompeo said the consultations planned by Griffiths should start in November "to implement confidence-building measures to address the underlying issues of the conflict, the demilitarization of borders, and the concentration of all large weapons under international observation."

    A cessation of hostilities and resumption of a political track would help ease the humanitarian crisis, Pompeo said.


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    NOW WATCH: A sleep expert explains what happens to your body and brain if you don't get enough sleep

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    Iran military parade 2017

    • Former intelligence officials have revealed a previously unreported breach of a CIA communications system by Iran.
    • Iranian agents reportedly used Google searches to discover websites that the CIA was using for communications purposes. 
    • It's estimated that the breach resulted in "dozens" of deaths around the world.

    Former intelligence officials have revealed a previously unreported breach of a CIA communications system by Iran.

    Yahoo News reported that in a breach that occurred around 2010, Iranian agents used simple Google searches to identify and then infiltrate the websites that the CIA was using to communicate with agents, according to two former US intelligence officials. The breach would reportedly lead to dozens of deaths around the globe and a cascade of consequences that spanned years.

    'It was working well for too long'

    Former officials say they believe the breach originated with an Iranian double agent that was hired by the CIA — what they claim would be a result of lax vetting. Despite a warning from Israel that Iran had identified certain CIA assets, Iran was then able to penetrate a CIA communications system through a series of Google searches.

    According to one former official, the Iranian double agent showed Iranian intelligence the website that the CIA was using for their communications. By using Boolean search operators like "AND" and "OR", stringing together characteristics of the communications and websites, Iranian intelligence was reportedly able to locate multiple other websites that the CIA was using for its communications. From there, Iran could track who was visiting the sites and from where — eventually exposing a large swath of the CIA's network in Iran. 

    'There was a cascade of effects that flowed outward' 

    The consequences of the breach were large and catastrophic. In Iran, multiple informants were imprisoned and executed and the network was reportedly nearly destroyed.

    US officials reportedly believe that through information sharing, the breach also led to China's penetration of the CIA network in that country, which in 2011 and 2012 led to the execution of approximately 30 agents there.

    In 2013, Iran reportedly penetrated the CIA's communications system in Yemen "that had nothing to do with them." To agents, the breach in Yemen indicated a desire to use the information they had gathered offensively. 

    'CIA is aware of this'

    The breach itself is disturbing enough when considering the stakes of America's most tightly held secrets, but perhaps even more shocking than the breach itself is the fact that the CIA was warned.

    In 2008, defense contractor John Reidy, who worked with Iranian sources, blew the whistle on a "massive intelligence failure" in the CIA, and in 2010 said the "nightmare scenario" had occurred, Yahoo reported. Reidy was moved off his assignment and eventually fired. 

    Reidy claims that "upwards of 70 percent of our operations had been compromised."

    In the last decade, Iran has been a notable alleged perpetrator of high-profile hacks and cyber attacks. In March, a US grand jury indicted nine Iranians for allegedly hacking the computers of 7,998 professors at 320 universities. Numerous cyberattacks on Saudi Arabian oil have been attributed to Iran, including one that is thought to have been devised to trigger an explosion.

    SEE ALSO: US reimposes all Iran sanctions lifted under nuclear deal

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    NOW WATCH: The true story behind Boston gangster Whitey Bulger

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    • China's much-hyped but never-before-seen H-20 nuclear bomber has reportedly made "great progress" in its development recently and may even fly publicly in a 2019 military parade.
    • Little is known about the H-20 bomber, but experts say it's less about nuclear deterrence patrols and more about fighting actual wars. 
    • A stealth flying-wing type bomber for China could allow it to attack US bases in Japan and Guam in a way the US doesn't really have any defenses against yet. 

    China's much-hyped but never-before-seen H-20 nuclear bomber has reportedly made "great progress" in its development recently and may even fly publicly in a 2019 military parade.

    But while China bills the mysterious jet as a modern answer to the US' airborne leg of its nuclear triad, a close read of Beijing's military and nuclear posture reveals another mission much more likely to actually draw blood.

    Though the jet remains an absolute unknown with only concept-art depictions in existence, let's start with what we know. China describes the H-20 as a "new long-distance strategic bomber," which recent imagery suggests will take a stealthy delta-wing design.

    An Asia Times profile of the H-20 cited Chinese media as saying "the ultimate goal for the H-20" is an "operational range to 12,000 kilometers with 20 tons of payload."

    "A large flying wing design ... is one of the only aerodynamic ways of achieving the broadband all-aspect stealth required for such a design," Justin Bronk, an aerial combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider. 

    Only one nation on earth operates a large stealth bomber, and that's the US. But the B-2 has never launched a nuclear bomb, instead it's been used as a stealthy bomb truck that can devastate hardened enemy targets with massive payloads on a nearly invisible platform.

    According to Lawrence Trevethan, a researcher at the China Aerospace Studies Institute, which works with the US Air Force, that's what China's H-20 will likely do as well.

    "I see the H-20 as a nearly exact replacement for the H-6 (China's current theoretically nuclear-capable bomber)," Trevethan told Business Insider.

    Ignore the nuclear mission

    Military vehicles carrying DF-26 ballistic missiles travel past Tiananmen Gate during a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Beijing.

    Trevethan, an expert on China's nuclear posture, pointed out that the H-6 never trains with nuclear bombs. China's nuclear-missile capable submarines have never had a verified nuclear deterrence patrol. China's nuclear weapons are not kept mated atop missiles, unlike Russia and the US. 

    And there's a simple reason why, according to Trevethan: Nuclear weapons are expensive and mutual nuclear war has never happened.

    Instead, conventional war happens — and happens all the time. 

    Trevethan called the H-20 a bomber "that might actually contribute to a military victory in a war fought as its [nuclear] doctrine imagines. "

    Bronk agreed, saying the "biggest impact of a B-2 style capability for the PLAAF [China's air force] would be much greater vulnerability of bases such as Guam and Kadana to conventional precision strikes."

    Currently, the US has Aegis and THAAD missile defenses in Guam and its Japanese bases, which pose a threat to China's fleet of missiles. But the US has no established defense against a stealth bomber, which China will likely seek to exploit with the H-20.

    Not built for cold wars

    b-52 refuel b 52

    Instead of a simple air-based nuclear deterrent, like the US and Russia maintain, spend tons of money on, and hope to never use, China's H-20 looks more like a bomber that actually plans to fight wars. (The US' bomber fleet, both nuclear and non-nuclear, fights in wars, but never in a nuclear capacity.)

    China's defensive nuclear posture also allows it more leeway in a shooting war. If the US and Russia got into a battle, and either side saw ballistic missiles heading for the other, it would have to assume they were nuclear missiles and retaliate before it faced utter destruction.

    But with no missiles ready to go and a much smaller stockpile, China can fire missiles at US bases and ships without giving the impression of a full-on nuclear doomsday.

    By fitting the H-20's concept into China's nuclear posture, it comes across as more of a credible conventional strike platform meant to beat the US back in the Pacific rather than a flying nuclear threat. 

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    NOW WATCH: China is building a mega-airport in Beijing that will open in 2019

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    • President Donald Trump, upon returning home from a World War I memorial event in Paris, unloaded on the US's European allies and appeared to threaten to pull out of NATO.
    • French President Emmanuel Macron was critical of Trump's leadership and politics during the Paris trip and floated the idea of forming a European army that would in part defend the continent from the US.
    • Trump called the idea "very insulting" and returned to his old talking points challenging NATO.
    • Trump said he told US allies in Paris that US protectorship of European countries amid trade deficits could not continue.

    President Donald Trump on Monday unloaded on the US's European allies, and appeared to threaten to pull out of NATO, upon returning home from a World War I memorial event in Paris, where French President Emmanuel Macron openly rebuked Trump's political philosophy in a speech on Sunday.

    Trump returned to his old talking points— that the US is treated unfairly within NATO while maintaining trade deficits with those countries — as Macron talked up the idea of a European army that would in part serve to protect the continent from the US.

    Macron floated the idea before Trump's trip, and Trump described it as "very insulting."

    "Just returned from France where much was accomplished in my meetings with World Leaders,"Trump tweeted on Monday morning.

    "Never easy bringing up the fact that the U.S. must be treated fairly, which it hasn't, on both Military and Trade,"he continued. "We pay for LARGE portions of other countries military protection, hundreds of billions of dollars, for the great privilege of losing hundreds of billions of dollars with these same countries on trade."

    Trump typically condemns any kind of trade deficit with any country, though the metric usually indicates the US has a strong economy that can afford to buy more from a given country than that country can buy from the US.

    Read more: Here's how NATO's budget actually works

    "I told them that this situation cannot continue," Trump said of the military and trade relationships with some of the US's closest allies. He described the situation as "ridiculously unfair."

    The US by far spends the most in NATO, both on its own defense budget and on programs to increase the readiness and capabilities of its European allies.

    In 2014, NATO countries agreed to raise their defense spending to 2% of gross domestic product by 2024. So far, only five countries — mainly in eastern and central Europe where the threat of Russia looms large — have met that pledge.

    Since his campaign days, Trump has demanded NATO countries meet that 2% figure, or even double it, immediately.

    Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has expressed little interest in hitting that benchmark.

    The metric of percentage of GDP spent on the military can also be deceptive. Defense spending has broad and differing definitions around the globe.

    Greece is one of the few NATO countries that meet the 2% spending mark, but it spends much of that on pensions.

    NATO's newest member, Montenegro, could spend 2% of its GDP on defense, which would be only $95 million, just over the cost of one US Air Force F-35.

    NATO pullout?

    Donald Trump speaks in Warsaw, Poland on Thursday.

    Trump on Monday also lamented the money the US has spent protecting other countries, saying the US gained nothing from the alliances other than "Deficits and Losses."

    "It is time that these very rich countries either pay the United States for its great military protection, or protect themselves...and Trade must be made FREE and FAIR!" Trump concluded, appearing to wave the idea of a US pullout from NATO.

    Article 5 of the NATO treaty, the alliance's key clause that guarantees a collective response to an attack on a member state, has been invoked only once in NATO's history: after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US.

    The result was a collective response from NATO countries that still have forces fighting and dying alongside US forces in Afghanistan today.

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    NOW WATCH: How Russia's most advanced military equipment stacks up against NATO hardware

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    With its National Defense Strategy released earlier this year, the US detailed its shift from small-scale operations like counterinsurgency and toward a potential fight with a rival like Russia or China.

    Countries around the world have made similar moves, refocusing on large-scale conflict.

    Amid those changes, head-to-head comparisons of military strength are hard to come by. Global Firepower's 2018 Military Strength Ranking tries to fill that void by drawing on more than 55 factors to assign a Power Index score to 136 countries — adding Ireland, Montenegro, and Liberia to last year's list.

    The ranking assesses the diversity of each country's weapons and pays particular attention to their available manpower. Geography, logistical capacity, available natural resources, and the status of local industry are also taken into account.

    While recognized nuclear powers receive a bonus, their nuclear stockpiles are not factored into the score. Landlocked countries are not docked for lacking a navy, but countries with navies are penalized if there is a lack of diversity in their fleets.

    NATO countries get a slight bonus because the alliance theoretically shares resources, but in general, a country's current political and military leadership was not considered (though financial health and stability is).

    The top power index score is 0.0000, which is "realistically unattainabile" for any military according to Global Firepower. The closer they are to this number, the more powerful their miltary is.

    Per these criteria, these are the 25 most powerful militaries in the world:

    SEE ALSO: Step aboard the USS Kearsarge, the US Navy workhorse that takes Marines to war

    25. Canada

    Power Index rating: 0.4356 (NATO member)

    Total population: 35,623,680

    Total military personnel: 88,000

    Total aircraft strength: 413

    Fighter aircraft: 60

    Combat tanks: 80

    Total naval assets: 63

    Defense budget: $16.4 billion

    24. Taiwan

    Power Index rating: 0.4331

    Total population: 23,508,428

    Total military personnel: 1,932,500

    Total aircraft strength: 843

    Fighter aircraft: 286

    Combat tanks: 2,005

    Total naval assets: 87

    Defense budget: $10.725 billion

    23. Algeria

    Power Index rating: 0.4296

    Total population: 40,969,443

    Total military personnel: 792,350

    Total aircraft strength: 528

    Fighter aircraft: 97

    Combat tanks: 2,405

    Total naval assets: 85

    Defense budget: $10.57 billion

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    A U.S. Marine with 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, secures concertina wire onto the California-Mexico border at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in California, Nov. 18, 2018.

    • The White House has reportedly sent a memo to the Pentagon authorizing US troops at the US-Mexico border to defend Customs and Border Protection personnel should the approaching migrant caravans turn violent.
    • The Department of Homeland Security has reportedly assessed that the threat of violence posed to border personnel by the approaching caravans is "minimal," but the White House insists that there is a credible threat.
    • There are presently 5,800 active-duty troops serving at the border as part of an operation that is estimated to cost roughly $72 million.
    • The Department of Defense, according to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, has offered assurances that the military will stay "strictly within accordance of the law."

    The White House has authorized US troops to take protective measures, including lethal force, to defend border personnel should the approaching migrant caravans turn violent, CNN first reported Tuesday.

    Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza confirmed to Business Insider that the Department of Defense received the memo, a "cabinet order" that reportedly permits"a show or use of force (including lethal force, where necessary), crowd control, temporary detention, and cursory search."

    Such activities could potentially be in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids active-duty military personnel from engaging in law enforcement activities on American soil, although the Department of Defense insists that it will not violate the law.

    Read more:The US military doesn't have any idea what the thousands of troops deployed to the border should do when the migrants show up

    There are approximately 5,800 active-duty troops currently serving at the US-Mexico border — 2,800 in Texas, 1,500 in Arizona, and 1,500 in California. These troops, deployed in addition to the more than 2,000 National Guard personnel already present at the southern border, have been hardening ports of entry and securing key crossing points. Around 11 miles of concertina (razor) wire has been put down since their arrival, the Department of Defense revealed Monday.

    The migrant caravans have clashed with authorities in other countries in incidents that led President Donald Trump to suggest that troops might open fire on migrants who throw rocks, a position from which he has since backed away. The odds that border personnel will encounter violence is reportedly low, but not nonexistent.

    A leaked internal Department of Homeland Security document said the risk is "minimal,"according to The New York Times. "C.B.P. assesses the likelihood of violence directed against C.B.P. personnel along the border is minimal," the document reads.

    White House chief of staff John Kelly, who signed the memo approving the new authorizations, argues that there is "credible evidence and intelligence" that the arrival of the migrants "may prompt incidents of violence and disorder."

    The military's border mission, initially designated "Operation Faithful Patriot" but later referred to only as "border support," has drawn a significant amount of criticism since it began late last month, as critics have repeatedly called the deployment of thousands of active-duty troops to the border a political stunt, especially given the legal limitations on what they can do on US soil.

    The Pentagon has pushed back against such accusations, with Secretary of Defense James Mattis saying "we don't do stunts in this department." The new protection authorizations would certainly expand the mission for deployed troops, giving them the ability to intervene in the event that CBP personnel came under attack.

    As migrants begin pouring into border towns, the military has been at a loss about what the next step is for the active-duty troops at the border. With the memo sent to the Pentagon Tuesday, it appears the White House is offering to fill in the gaps.

    Read more:Trump rushed more than 5,000 troops to the border to lay razor wire. Miles and miles of it.

    Any protective measures taken by troops deployed at the border would be "proportional," officials told CNN. At the moment, Mattis is still reviewing the new authorities. "We’ll decide if [the authorities] are appropriate for the military," he told reporters Wednesday, according to Stars and Stripes. For the time being, the mission at the border has not changed.

    In response to questions about the use of deadly force, Mattis further explained that DHS has not made a request for the use of lethal force, stressing that troops are not even carrying firearms.

    "Relax. Don’t worry about it," he told reporters.

    The Pentagon said Tuesday the cost of the deployment is $72 million, although that figure could change. Mattis said Wednesday he expects this figure to rise.

    Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen expressed gratitude for the Department of Defense's support late Tuesday evening.

    "[The Department of Homeland Security] and [Customs and Border Protection] will not permit unlawful entry into the US at or [between] our ports of entry [and] will continue to take all possible actions to stop such entry at our border," she wrote on Twitter, adding, "We appreciate [the Department of Defense] and [National Guard] for partnering [with] DHS on the border until the mission is complete."

    The mission for active-duty troops is expected to run until December 15.

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    US Navy aircraft carrier

    • The US Navy's 11 aircraft super carriers represent the envy of the world in terms of naval might and power projection, but their cult status and new threats from China and Russia could lose the US its next war. 
    • Aircraft carriers have become an almost mystical symbol of US power, according to experts, and losing one would have a damaging psychological toll on the country. 
    • An expert said the US president might not even want to send carriers into battle these days because losing one is a real possibility and it would significantly impact public support for fighting.
    • But the carriers also deter war, because if an enemy fires on an aircraft carrier, they know the full might of the US will follow. 

    The US Navy's 11 aircraft super carriers represent the envy of the world in terms of naval might and power projection, but the cult status they've achieved and the rise of Russia and China's missile fleets could lose the US its next war.

    The myth of aircraft carrier goes that in times of crisis, the first question a president asks is: Where are the aircraft carriers?

    The US Navy's Nimitz-class aircraft carriers tower above most buildings at 130 feet above the waterline. More than 1,000 feet in length displacing 100,000 tons of water, they transcend the idea of ships and become floating cities, or mobile airfields. 

    Around 80 aircraft and 7,000 sailors, marines, and pilots live aboard the craft as its nuclear reactor steams it across the world's oceans at a remarkable clip. One of these carriers costs about $5 billion. The aircraft on board likely cost another billion or so.

    The lives of the crew and the significance of the carrier to the US's understanding of its national power are priceless.

    Mythical creatures

    US Navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman E-2D Hawkeye

    Jerry Hendrix, a former captain in the US Navy who worked with the chief of naval operation's executive panel on naval aviation and missile defense cautioned at a Heritage Foundation talk on Tuesday that the carriers may have become too mythological to fight. 

    "Carriers have gone beyond mere naval platforms to become near mystical symbols of American national power," said Hendrix. "They are the symbol of the nation, its greatness, in the way they are perceived as asset of national prestige."

    If the US purchased all of one carrier in a single year, it would eat 80% of the total shipbuilding budget, Hendrix said. 

    But with the proliferation of carrier-killer missiles from China and Russia, meaning missiles purpose-built to sink carriers at sea from ranges far beyond the furthest missile from the furthest-flying jet off a carrier's deck, it's not immediately clear how these massive ships can bring their impressive power to bear.

    Read more:America's most expensive warship ever built will undoubtedly change naval warfare

    Carriers sail with a strike group of dedicated warships that can take on submarines, missiles, aircraft, and other surface combatants.

    Bryan Clarke, former special assistant to the chief of naval operations who also spoke at Heritage, said that in a best-case scenario, a carrier strike group could down 450 incoming missiles. China could likely muster 600 missiles in an attack about 1,000 miles off their coast.

    So short of some revolution in strike group armaments or tactics, China looks to have a solid chance at sinking the mythical aircraft carrier.

    Too big to fail?

    us bismarck sinking world war ii

    "Presidents may well be hesitant to introduce carriers inside dense portions of the enemy's threat environment," said Hendrix. "The military may make that advice based upon the mission they've been given," he continued, "but the president might not feel comfortable risking it."

    The commander in chief of the US military owes his job to public opinion. Losing an aircraft carrier at sea would shock a nation that hasn't seen such destruction in a single battle since the Vietnam war. 

    "For fear of loss of national prestige or even their political power," US presidents might not even want to use carriers, said Hendrix. "For the loss of an aircraft carrier will have a significant impact on the national conversation."

    "We need to begin as a nation to have a conversation that prepares the American people for war," said Hendrix. "There is, unfortunately, the heavy potential of conflict coming, but the nation is not ready for heavy battle damage to its navy and specifically not to its aircraft carriers. We need to move these assets back in the realm of being weapons, and not being perceived as mystical unicorns."

    Read more: Here's how China's new aircraft carrier stacks up to other world powers' carriers

    But Bryan McGrath, founding managing director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a naval consultancy, told Business Insider that the US's enemies would think twice before targeting a carrier, and that a wartime US Navy and people can and have risen to the task of fighting on through sunk carriers in the past. 

    "The decision to go after an aircraft carrier, short of the deployment of nuclear weapons, is the decision that a foreign power would take with the most reticence," said McGrath. "The other guy knows that if that is their target, the wrath of god will come down on them."

    For now, the expert community remains split around the utility of aircraft carriers going forward, but the US Navy continues to build them and set thousands to sea on them in a sure sign of confidence. 

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