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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider
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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 Russia's only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is an outdated ship with a host of mechanical issues and will be offline for years during an overhaul.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

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: I spent a day with Border Patrol agents at the US-Mexico border


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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

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: I spent a day with Border Patrol agents at the US-Mexico border


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    space

    • 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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    NOW WATCH: INSIDE WEST POINT: What it’s really like for new Army cadets on their first day


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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

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: INSIDE WEST POINT: What it’s really like for new Army cadets on their first day


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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

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A North Korean defector's harrowing story of escape


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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

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: INSIDE WEST POINT: What it’s really like for new Army cadets on their first day


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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. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: INSIDE WEST POINT: What it’s really like for new Army cadets on their first day


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    F-35C

    • 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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    NOW WATCH: INSIDE WEST POINT: What it’s really like for new Army cadets on their first day


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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.

    Source



    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 UAWire.org, 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 UAWire.org.

    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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    aircraft carrier f 35c

    • The US Navy carried out two high profile aircraft carrier training events in key waters that send messages to both China and Russia.
    • The US has named China and Russia as its great rivals, and said it intends to build military capacity to thwart their military ambitions.
    • The US Navy hadn't been taking an active role in checking these two countries, but recently they made big statements.
    • Drills including strong US allies and F-35C stealth jet fighters no doubt raised eyebrows in Moscow and Beijing. 

    The US Navy carried out two high profile aircraft carrier training events in key waters that send messages to both China and Russia, the US's two main competitors and the only countries close to matching the US's military might. 

    The US Navy's Ronald Regan Carrier Strike Group joined Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force's Escort Flotilla 4 Battle Group and conducted joint military exercises in the hotly-contested South China Sea Friday, Navy said

    Japan sent the Kaga, a small aircraft carrier technically classified as a destroyer, along with guided-missile destroyers to train with the US's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, the Reagan. 

    This training advanced the US and Japan's vision of a "free and open Indo-Pacific," a key part of US strategy to prevent Beijing from tightening its grip on the region by further militarizing the South China Sea. 

    But beyond just teaching US and Japanese carriers how to fight together, the US sent Beijing a message that it won't be pushed out of the South China Sea, and if a fight comes, it won't stand alone. 

    China, which illegally annexed about 90% of the South China Sea and has sought to unilaterally dictate who can use the resource-rich waterway that sees trillions in annual trade, has struggled to make allies in the region. The US has moved to counter China's attempts at hegemony with deeper ties with Australia, Japan, and India.

    On top of that, the US just showed for the first time ever that it can update its supercarriers with stealth aircraft perfect for taking out island fortresses like Beijing's South China Sea holdings: The F-35C.

    Russia checked by the second fleet

    F-35C

    Half a world away, the US's USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Harry S. Truman carriers did joint training including the F-35C for the first time. But this drill likely had an additional audience in mind — Russia.

    The US recently decided to bring back the Second Fleet, a Navy command that countered the threat from the Soviet Union and was stood down in 2011 when it seemed like the Russia threat had waned.

    As Russia's navy increasingly menaces the US and looks to assert itself as a powerful navy in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, the US has again found the need to defend the home waters of the near Atlantic.

    Russia, which only has one inactive and shoddy aircraft carrier, cannot hope to compete with the US's multiple carriers and advanced aircraft. 

    The US has recently reshuffled its schedule of aircraft carrier deployments to have more ships present to keep the pressure on Russia and China. New US national defense and strategy documents from President Donald Trump's administration decidedly shift US focus from a post-Cold War mentality when the US's enemies where small, lightly armed cells of terrorists hidden in hills to a full on competition between world powers, as it was in the World Wars.

    Russia and China have taken notice, with Russian ships drilling in the Mediterranean, waters they wouldn't have normally reached before their incursion into Syria in 2015, and Chinese ships challenging US ships and planes right to pass through international spaces. 

    Also in 2015, the US suspended freedom of navigation patrols, its main way of checking Chinese ambition in the South China Sea.

    But now, the Navy is taking those challenges seriously.  “We are the best Navy in the world, and given the complex and competitive environment we are in, we can’t take anything for granted or settle for the status quo,” said Abraham Lincoln Strike Group Commander Rear Adm. John Wade in a Navy release

    With a renewed mission and the world's first carrier-launched stealth aircraft, the US has sent a clear signal to its main military rivals that US Navy power is back and on the move. 

    SEE ALSO: Trump drew a red line on Syria — but Russia looks set for massive retaliation this time

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    Syria Air Strike Damascus

    • The Trump administration has warned it will strike Syria if it finds it used chemical weapons in an upcoming assault.
    • President Trump has already attacked Syria twice over chemical warfare, but it doesn't stop chemical weapons use or even ease the suffering of Syrians.
    • The Syrian war is seven years old and the US can't do much to turn the tide at this point as Russia and Iran take control.
    • Instead, the US exercises leadership with purely punitive strikes against non-critical elements of Syria's military.
    • The real purpose of the Syria strikes is to send a message to Russia and others who would use chemical weapons, not to actually help people in Syria. 

    President Donald Trump's made it very clear that the US may soon carry out a military strike on Syria for its suspected chemical weapons use on civilians, but saving Syria's bombarded civilians wouldn't be the real purpose of such a strike. 

    Currently, the Syrian government, along with its Iranian and Russian backers, is preparing a massive offensive to take back the last rebel stronghold in a seven-year-long war that started with Syrian President Bashar Assad putting pro-democracy protestors to death in 2011. 

    Since then, the war has seen 500,000 deaths and millions of Syrians displaced, spawning a refugee crisis across Europe. A generation of Syrian children have grown up under fire and knowing nothing but war, likely fueling extremism for decades to come. 

    The US under Obama made efforts to train and equip moderate rebels, but those efforts failed as US weapons made their way to terrorists' hands and the opposition was crushed by the regime which Iran and Russia more directly supported.

    Only Trump has stood up to Assad, who stands accused of war crimes including chemical weapons use, torture, and bombing of civilian hubs like schools and hospitals. But Trump didn't strike Syria to save civilians, he did it to send a message to Russia.

    "If President Bashar al-Assad chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday.

    “This is a tragic situation," US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said on the same day, referring to the mounting Syrian offensive."If [Assad and his allies want] to continue to go the route of taking over Syria, they can do that, but they cannot do it with chemical weapons."

    The US has attacked the Syrian government twice, in April 2017 and in April of this year, both times after large scale chemical weapons use in the country.

    Haley went on to say that Syria, Iran, and Russia "can’t" retake the country by "assaulting their people," but the US has never attacked Syria for simply assualting, whether in prisons, by shelling, or airstrikes, its own people. 

    The chemistry of US strikes on Syria

    Tomahawk cruise missile uss wisconson desert storm

    Chemical weapons represent a unique horror on the battlefield. Families sheltering in basements or bunkers from conventional bombs can die from fumes seeping in. Survivors and battlefiled medics describe the suffering associated with exposure to chemical weapons as uniquely horrifying and traumatizing. Unlike conventional bombs that might blow up a plane or ship, chemical weapons are strictly anti-human. 

    But as horrible as they are, chemcial warfare accounts for a tiny fraction of overall death in the Syrian war. Even if the Trump administration managed to completely rid Syria of chemical weapons, or ward them off from ever using the weapons again, the suffering in Syria would continue at much the same pace. 

    If the US military wanted to, it could find out which air force units in Assad's military dropped the chemical weapons. It could find out where they live. It could kill them in the night to send a message. 

    Instead, the US strikes have focused on repairable airstrips and research facilities. These targets had no embedded Russian soliders and a few cruise missiles off a Navy ship that would simply sail away after striking these targets. 

    When the US strikes Syria, it picks locations unlikely to harm Russians, therefore preventing escalation between the world's greatest nuclear powers. But the strikes still send a message to Moscow, that the US won't be muscled out of Syria, and that the international norm against chemical weapons use is worth upholding. 

    In that way, the US demonstrates the tiny channel of leadership it has left in the horrific Syrian crisis. The US can't stop a Syria, with Iran and Russia's help, from slaughtering its own people. That ship sailed years ago.

    But it can show the world that there are still red lines that the US will risk blood and treasure to enforce. 

    SEE ALSO: 

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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.

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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

    J-20

    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. 

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    • 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. 

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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."

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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. 

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