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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider
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    B-52

    • 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. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

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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. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

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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.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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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.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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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.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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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.

     

    Join the conversation about this story »

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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

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    h 20 china plaaf screengrab

    • 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. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    trump macron

    • 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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    Navy sailors russia

    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



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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.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: What serving in the military taught beauty YouTuber Jackie Aina


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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. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: What serving in the military taught beauty YouTuber Jackie Aina


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    james jim mattis 2003

    President Donald Trump just forced out Defense Secretary James Mattis two months early, after Mattis criticized Trump for betraying allies.

    Over the past two years, the relationship between Trump and Mattis has deteriorated. Mattis was once one of Trump's most highly decorated cabinet members. But Mattis ultimately resigned after Trump decided to pull American troops out of Syria.

    Upon Mattis's nomination in 2016, the Defense Secretary was highly regarded as a masterful leader and scholar of war. According to a number of those who served with him, he's a well-read history buff with a strategic mind, a senior man who is not above talking to even the most junior personnel, and a sometimes gruff, opinionated leader who isn't afraid to tell it like it is.

    Business Insider spoke with a number of people who served with Mattis, and gathered up other anecdotes, to understand what the former four-star general is really like when he's in charge.

    Here's what we learned.

    Jacob Shamsian contributed to this report.

    SEE ALSO: 19 unforgettable quotes from legendary Marine Gen. James 'Mad Dog' Mattis

    Mattis has often been praised by senior leaders at the Pentagon as both a strategic thinker with an encyclopedic knowledge of history, and an incredible leader.



    That reputation was earned over a 44-year career in the Marine Corps, where he rose to the highest rank of four-star general, eventually retiring as the top leader of US Central Command in 2013.



    Before he took that job, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates praised him as one of the most formidable "warrior-scholars" of his generation. "General Mattis is one of our military’s foremost strategic thinkers and combat leaders," he said.

    Source: Stripes



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    J-20 china stealth fighter

    • The makers of China's new J-20 stealth fighter revealed the combat mission of the aircraft, and one of its key tasks would most likely see it getting shot down by decades-old US and European fighter jets.
    • The J-20 has an impressive stealth design and good missiles that make it ideal for attacking some key targets that could degrade or even cripple the US military.
    • But when it comes to old-fashioned air superiority, which China says the J-20 will take on, the US's F-15 and Europe's Typhoon could most likely beat it with ease.
    • The US's top air-superiority fighter, the F-22, outclasses the J-20 by a wide margin in terms of taking control of the skies.

    The makers of China's new J-20 stealth fighter revealed the combat mission of the aircraft, and one of its key tasks would most likely see it getting shot down by decades-old US and European fighter jets.

    The J-20 has impressed observers with its advanced design and formidable weapons, but the jet's actual combat mission has remained somewhat of a mystery.

    Read more: The real purpose behind China's mysterious J-20 stealth fighter jet

    But Andreas Rupprecht, a German researcher focused on China's air power, recently posted an informational brochure from the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, the J-20's maker, laying out its mission.

    It described the J-20 as a "heavy stealth" fighter that's "renowned" for its dominance in medium- and long-range air combat and first lists "seizing & maintaining air superiority" as its core missions.

    It also lists interception and deep strike as missions for the J-20, falling roughly in line with Western analyses of the jet's capabilities.

    But the J-20s purported air-superiority role is likely to raise more eyebrows.

    Read more: China's most advanced stealth fighter may now be able to strike targets at greater distances than ever

    J-20 loses the old-fashioned fight for the skies

    Two J-20 stealth fighter jets of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force performs during the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China 2018, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Zhuhai city, south China's Guangdong province.

    Justin Bronk, an aerial-combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that for the J-20, fighting US or European jets for control of the skies represents a losing battle.

    The J-20 is "certainly likely to be more capable as an air-superiority platform than anything else the People's Liberation Army Air Force"— China's air force's official name — "is currently operating," Bronk said.

    "With a powerful radar and multiple internal air-to-air missiles as well as long range, it certainly shouldn't be dismissed as an air-superiority machine," he continued.

    But just because it's China's best doesn't mean it can hold a candle to Europe's Typhoon fighter or even the US's F-15, which first flew in 1972.

    "In terms of thrust to weight, maneuverability, and high-altitude performance, it is unlikely to match up to the US or European air-superiority fighters," Bronk said.

    China's J-20 made a solid entry into the world of stealth fighter aircraft and became the only non-US stealth jet in the world. It's designed to significantly limit the ability of US radar to spot and track the large fighter, but the stealth mainly works on the front end, while the J-20 is flying straight toward the radar.

    Tactically, experts have told Business Insider, the J-20 poses a serious threat in the interception and maritime-strike roles with its stealth design, but so far the jet has yet to deliver.

    Read more: China appears to have rushed its J-20 stealth fighter into service with an 'embarrassing' flaw

    China has suffered embarrassing setbacks in domestically building jet engines that would give the J-20 true fifth-generation performance on par with the F-35 or the F-22.

    Bronk said China still appears years away from crossing this important threshold that would increase the range and performance of the jets.

    "The engines are a significant limiting factor" in that they require inefficient use of afterburners and limit high-altitude performance, Bronk said.

    What air superiority looks like

    f15c

    As it stands, the J-20 couldn't match the F-15 or the Eurofighter Typhoon, or even get close to an F-22, Bronk said.

    "Against the F-15C and Typhoon, the J-20 has a lower radar cross section but worse performance, and its air-to-air missiles are unlikely to yet match the latest [US] series and certainly not the new European Meteor," Bronk said.

    Bronk said that China had made great strides in air-to-air missile development and was testing at an "extremely high" pace, so the capability gap could close in a few short years.

    But how does the J-20 stack up to the greatest air-superiority plane on the planet today, the F-22?

    Read more: How China's stealthy new J-20 fighter jet compares to the US's F-22 and F-35

    "The F-22 likely significantly outperforms the J-20 in almost every aspect of combat capability except for combat radius," Bronk said, referring to the farthest distance a loaded plane can travel without refueling.

    Undoubtedly, the J-20 represents a significant leap in Chinese might and poses a serious and potentially critical threat to US air power in its ability to intercept and launch deep strikes.

    But in the narrow role of air superiority — beating the best fighters the other side can offer to gain control of the sky — the US and Europe could most likely beat down China's J-20 without much trouble.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Everything we know about the mysterious SR-72 — Lockheed Martin's successor to the fastest plane ever


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    John Bolton Mitt Romney

    • President Donald Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton reportedly asked for the Pentagon to provide military options for striking Iran.
    • The Pentagon regularly prepares all kinds of military options for all kinds of scenarios, many of which are not imminent at all, but this request reportedly rattled the war planners.
    • Experts say the response to Bolton's request suggests he had something extreme planned.
    • Bolton has long advocated war against Iran and even regime change, which likely would shock the Pentagon.

    President Donald Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton reportedly asked the Pentagon to provide military options for striking Iran, which experts say should have been standard procedure, but somehow managed to shock defense officials.

    Bolton, who has long advocated for the US to bomb Iran and even institute regime change against its theocratic rulers, requested options to strike Iran after Tehran-linked militants mortared, unsuccessfully, a US embassy in Baghdad, the Wall Street Journal first reported Sunday.

    "It definitely rattled people," an official told the Journal. "People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran."

    But according to Ned Price, former special assistant to President Obama on the National Security Council, Bolton's response to an attack on the US represents standard operating procedure.

    Read more:The Trump administration has been itching for a fight with Iran, but Mattis held it back. Now he's gone.

    "It should come as no surprise that our military planners have devised war plans for a range of scenarios across the globe. Anything less would be derelict on their part," Price told Business Insider.

    "What makes this different, however, is that the White House — in the form of Bolton — ordered the Pentagon to present these plans in the heat of the moment following an attack on US facilities," Price continued. "That’s qualitatively different than the Pentagon undertaking contingency planning as a matter of course."

    So what could Bolton have requested from the Pentagon that came as such a shock?

    Airstrikes.

    operation desert storm

    According to Patrick Clawson, the director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Pentagon's shock likely came from an extreme request from Bolton: Airstrikes. 

    Clawson said it was natural for the US to look to retaliate against Iran after militants under its command attacked US personnel, but that the US had plenty of options, even military options, short of alarming.

    For example, the US could have ordered the navy to intercept Iranian boats at sea that they suspect of arming Houthi rebels in Yemen as a measured military response that likely wouldn't shock many in the Pentagon, said Clawson. 

    Read more:Trump's national security adviser John Bolton has advocated bombing North Korea — and he may be sabotaging talks

    But the rattled response by Pentagon officials indicates that Bolton likely saw the attack in Baghdad as the start of a wider campaign against US citizens in the Middle East, and that Bolton sought a heavy-handed response.

    "Airstrikes are a stupid idea," said Clawson. If Bolton requested options for airstrikes from the Pentagon, "somebody should come back and say that's a really dumb idea," he continued. 

    While the US has ample air power and could easily hit targets in Iran, Clawson said "the Iranians would be able to play that well with their domestic audiences and the international audiences, saying the Americans are warmongerers and erratic."

    Furthermore, Iran has denied directing the strike in Baghdad, though the US reportedly assesses they did indeed order attacks on the US.

    iraq shia militia

    Iran therefore has "plausible deniability" in the attacks, whereas airstrikes with US military jets do not afford that same deniability to the US, and would mark a large escalation, said Clawson. 

    Read more: Trump has his cake and eats it too with sanctions tanking Iran's economy and oil staying low

    "It’s the job of the Pentagon to have off-the-shelf options ready, but it’s the role of those in charge of policy — including the national security advisor — to ensure we employ force prudently and only as a last resort," said Price. 

    The Trump administration has actually enjoyed some success in punishing Iran for its regional behavior and rallying support from Europe, despite its controversial withdrawal from the Iran deal.

    But a direct air strike on Iran in response to a failed mortar attack that injured no one could easily trigger an all-out war across the region, and easily send chills down spines among Pentagon warplanners. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The US Air Force refuels combat jets in midair with a 'flying boom system' — watch it in action


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    israel f 16i sufa

    • Russia has some of its best air defenses in Syria, and has boasted they can shoot down US stealth fighters, but Israel routinely defeats these systems with non-stealthy F-16s.
    • Syria managed to shoot down one Israeli F-16, but also shot down a surveillance plane that belonged to its ally, Russia, on accident.
    • There's good evidence to suggest that Israel's air force is really good at defeating Syria's air defenses and that Syria hasn't figured out how to defend itself yet.
    • Russia has taken to making excuses for their Syrian allies as their systems, which they hope to export, are routinely defeated by Israeli jets. 

    Russia deployed some of its best air defenses to Syria to keep US missiles and jets at bay as the US military's immense air and naval power fought ISIS in close proximity — but the supposedly airtight defenses are routinely defeated by Israel.

    In February 2017, a Syrian-manned Russian-made S-200 missile defense system shot down an Israel F-16 returning from a massive raid targeting Iranian forces in Syria. 

    In response, Israel launched another raid that it claimed took out half of Syria’s air defenses, of which older Russian systems comprised the majority. 

    Read more:Israel's F-35s reportedly saw combat in a raging Syrian air war that smashed Russian defenses

    In April, Syria got rocked by a missile attack that appeared to ignite a munitions depot hard enough to register as a 2.6 magnitude earthquake and is believed to have killed dozens of Iranians. 

    In May, Israel released video of one of its bombs destroying a Russian air defense system, Russian media offered excuses as to why it failed to stop the incoming missile.

    Israel rarely confirms individual airstrikes, and either confirmed or didn't deny these attacks. 

    In September, another Israeli raid on Iranian weapons stockpiles in Syria saw a Russian Il-20 surveillance and control plane downed by Russian-made air defenses fired off in error by Syrian air defense units, killing 15. 

    Read more:Russia's new missile defenses in Syria look likely to set off a shooting war against Israel

    Russia accused Israel of purposefully flying under the Il-20 to confuse the Syrian air defenses into shooting down a friendly plane and quickly shipped the more advanced S-300 missile defenses to Syrian hands.

    Russia thinks highly of its S-300 and other missile defenses, and has publicly mocked the US over its stealth jets, implying it could shoot them down. At the time, Russia said it would shut down satellite navigation in the region and that it expected its new defenses would preclude further Israeli attacks. So far, they were wrong. 

    Somehow Israel has continued to hit targets in Syria at will with F-16s, non-stealthy fourth-generation fighter-bombers.

    israel syria

    On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that his country’s air force had carried out hundreds of raids in Syria, with a recent one hitting Iranian weapons near Damascus International Airport.

    Russia initially deployed air defenses to Syria to keep powerful countries like the US from attacking Syrian President Bashar Assad, and later to protect its own air force fighters stationed there. 

    The US has long opposed Assad, as he violently shut down peaceful protesters in 2011 and has stood accused of torture, war crimes, and using chemical weapons against civilians during the country’s maddening 7-year-long civil war.

    But the US has attacked Syria twice with cruise missiles, and Syria has never proven a single missile intercept. 

    According to experts, there’s two likely reasons why Syria’s Russian-made air defenses can’t get the job done: 1. Israel is good at beating Syrian air defenses. 2. Syria is bad at beating Israeli jets. 

    Israel is good at this

    israeli air force formation blue flag israel

    "One of the Israeli hallmarks when they do these sort of fairly bold strikes within the coverage of the Syrian air defenses is heavy electronic warfare and jamming,” Justin Bronk, an aerial combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute told Business Insider.

    Bronk said that Israel, a close US ally that takes part in major training events in the US, has become adept at knocking over Syrian air defenses.

    Israel sees Iranian arms shipments through Syria as an existential threat. Although Israel has relationships to maintain with the US and Russia — both key players in the Syrian quagmire — Netanyahu has said resolutely that Israel will stop at nothing to beat back Iran. 

    In more than 100 raids admitted by Netanyahu, Israel has only lost a single aircraft. Bronk attributes this to  "many, many tricks developed over decades" for the suppression of enemy air defenses developed by Israel.

    Retired US Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Berke, a former F-35, F-22, and F-18 pilot, told Business Insider that Israel finds "innovative, creative, and aggressive ways to maximize the capability of every weapons systems they've ever used."

    Syria is bad at this

    Syria Air Strike Damascus

    Syria has demonstrably failed on many occasions to stop air attacks on its territory. While Russia’s air defenses do give US military planners serious pause, Syria’s have yet to prove themselves.

    With US Tomahawk cruise missile strikes in consecutive Aprils in 2017 and 2018, Syria claimed both times to have blocked a significant portion of the attack, but never provided any evidence of an intercept

    Additionally, photos from the second US Tomahawk strike on Syria show Syrian air defenses firing interceptor missiles on ballistic trajectories.

    This strongly indicates that the Syrians simply fired blindly into the night sky, unable to detect a thing as US missiles rocked targets across the countryside. S-300

    Read more:Photos of the Syria strike appear to show missile interceptors firing blindly, failing to stop missile attack

    Finally, Syria shooting down a friendly Russian plane evidences a lack of coordination or situational awareness, whether due to old hardware, Israeli electronic warfare, or simply poor execution. 

    Israel’s most recent attacks in Syria took place smack in the middle of Damascus, Russian and Syrian air defenses make for some of the world's most challenging airspace. 

    That Israel can still fight in Syria among top Russian air defenses shows either that their force has its tactics down pat, that Syria can’t field decent air defense regimes, or that Russia has turned a blind eye to Israel pounding on Iranian advances in the region. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The US Air Force refuels combat jets in midair with a 'flying boom system' — watch it in action


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    F 35

    • In 2015 the F-35 lost repeatedly in mock dogfights with F-16s because it couldn't turn well enough, a test pilot wrote in an official report.
    • But new videos leaked from the US Air Force's F-35 demo or stunt flying team show the jet making head-spinning turns that older jets could never hit. 
    • A former F-35 squadron commander told Business Insider that the jet has become an excellent dogfighter, and the new moves show it. 

    Early in its combat testing, a test pilot's damning report leaked to the press and exposed the world's most expensive weapons system, the F-35, as a bad dogfighter that the F-16 routinely trounced in mock battles. 

    But new videos leaked from the US Air Force's F-35 demo or stunt flying team show the jet making head-spinning turns that older jets could never hit. 

    In 2015, the test pilot's write up of the jet's combat performance obliterated the idea of F-35 as a capable dogfighter due to a glaring flaw: Weak maneuverability.

    "Overall, the most noticeable characteristic of the F-35A in a visual engagement was its lack of energy maneuverability," the pilot wrote. 

    Read more:Here's why the F-35 once lost to F-16s, and how it made a stunning comeback

    "The F-35 was at a distinct energy disadvantage in a turning fight and operators would quickly learn it isn't an ideal regime... Though the aircraft has proven it is capable of high AOA [angle of attack] flight, it wasn't effective for killing or surviving attacks primarily due to a lack of energy maneuverability," he continued.

    Furthermore, according to the pilot, there was basically nothing the F-35 could do to escape getting killed by the F-16's gun. Any move he tried to escape the F-35's cannon read as "predictable" and saw the pilot taking a loss.

    But the F-35 program and its role in dogfights hadn't been as well figured out back then.

    Since then, the F-35 has mopped up in simulated dogfights with a 15-1 kill ratio. According to retired Lt. Col. David Berke, who commanded a squadron of F-35s and flew an F-22 — the US's most agile, best dogfighter — the jet has undergone somewhat of a revolution. 

    New moves, new rules

    F 35 v F 16

    In the video, the F-35 pilot takes the plane inverted, hits a tight loop, and appears to pause in mid-air as he enters a flat spin that makes his hundred-million-dollar jet appear like a leaf floating down towards earth. (Really better to watch than read about it.)

    The flat spin move is often used by F-22 and Russian fighter pilots to show off the intense ability of their planes to sling the nose around in any direction they wish. 

    According to Berke, this F-35 stunt "demonstrates what the pilots and the people around the aircraft have always known: It's vastly superior to almost anything out there," in terms of agility. 

    Furthermore, according to Berke, an F-16 could not hit the move shown in the demo team's video. 

    Read more:A new generation of F-35 pilots are coming, and they'll solve the fighter's biggest problem

    Berke and others close to the F-35 program have described to Business Insider a kind of breakthrough in the maneuvering of the F-35 throughout its development. 

    Berke said the video proves that the F-35 is a "highly maneuverable, highly effective dogfighting platform," but even still, he wouldn't use that exact maneuver in a real dogfight. 

    The flat spin is "not an effective dogfighting maneuver, and in some cases, you would avoid doing that."David Berke F 22

    "If me and you were dogfighting and we’re 2 miles away, and I had a wingman 5 miles away, you’d be super slow and predictable and easy for him to find," due to executing the move, said Berke. 

    But despite the F-35's impressive moves and ability to win dogfights, Berke said he'd stay on mission and try to score kills that take better advantage of the jet's stealth.

    Read more:Russian fighter pilot says he beat an F-22 in a mock dogfight and locked onto it, but the Pentagon threw cold water on the claims

    "I want to avoid getting into a dogfight, but if I had to I’m going to be able to outmaneuver most other aircraft," he said.

    After all, the F-35's makers never intended it as a straight World War II-era Red Baron killer, but a rethink of aerial combat as a whole. 

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    netflix space force steve carrel

    • Netflix announced on Wednesday a new show about President Donald Trump's new branch of the US military, the Space Force, from Steve Carell and Greg Daniels, the main comedic forces behind "The Office." 
    • The show will follow "the story of the men and women who have to figure" out Trump's quixotic demand for a military branch dedicated to outer space.
    • Experts who spoke to Business Insider called Trump's move to create a new military branch dedicated to space premature. 

    Netflix announced on Wednesday a new show about President Donald Trump's new branch of the US military, the Space Force, from Steve Carell and Greg Daniels, the main comedic forces behind "The Office." 

    "On June 18, 2018 the federal government announced the creation of a 6th major division of the United States armed forces," a teaser for the new series read. 

    "The goal of the new branch is 'to defend satellites from attack' and 'perform other space-related tasks' or something," it continues. "This is the story of the men and women who have to figure it out."

    Trump's Space Force, which the Air Force explicitly opposed for years before his presidency, met with resistance from experts and the Pentagon.

    However, most experts agree that the US does need to protect its space assets such as satellites, but previous administrations had been satisfied with the Air Force's Space Command.

    Read more:Trump's Space Force is about beating China, as Beijing is talking as if it already owns space

    Experts who spoke to Business Insider called Trump's move to create a new military branch dedicated to space premature, and Mark Kelley, a former US astronaut, called it "dumb."

    So far, Space Command does not have an independent headquarters or command structure. 

    "The Office" remains one of the most popular shows on Netflix and is credited with bringing the mockumentary storytelling format to the US. 

    Watch the teaser here:

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    Kim Jong Un

    • President Donald Trump rolled out his vision for the future of nuclear war fighting on Thursday with the Missile Defense Review, and the plan reads like a guide to taking down North Korean missile launches.
    • Some of the very same ideas that came up for negating a North Korean missile attack during the height of the nuclear crisis in 2017 came up in the review.
    • Trump has directed the US to research using the F-35 and possibly a laser drone to take out missile launches which only make sense over North Korea, which has relatively few nuclear missiles.
    • Even as Trump goes ahead trying to find an uneasy peace with Pyongyang, the missile defense review clearly looks to upset the deterrence relationship and balance between the two nuclear powers. 

    President Donald Trump rolled out his vision for the future of nuclear war fighting on Thursday with the Missile Defense Review, and the plan reads like a guide to taking down North Korean missile launches.

    The review, originally slotted to come out in May 2018, may have been postponed to avoid spooking North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un met with Trump the following month, Defense News reported

    North Korea regularly reacts harshly to any US military move that could threaten it, and has frequently threatened to strike the US with nuclear weapons in the past. 

    Read more:Trump just reimagined how the US will fight nuclear wars — but it's a losing battle with Russia

    Throughout 2017, the US and North Korea traded nuclear threats that saw the world dragged to the brink of unimaginable bloodshed and destruction. 

    During that time, military planners, Congress, and the president all considered the unimaginable: Going to war with North Korea. 

    'All options' still on the table

    Kim Jong Un Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Hwasong 14 North Korea

    North Korea, a serial human rights violator and nuclear proliferator, presents itself as an easy target for US intervention even for the most dovish commander in chief, but there's one small problem. 

    North Korea's chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, all of which can be affixed to ballistic missiles, pose a tremendous threat to South Korea, a staunch US ally, and increasingly, the US mainland itself. 

    Read more:Here's why the US would have to be insane to attack North Korea

    North Korea discussed lobbing missiles at the US military in Guam and detonating a nuclear warhead above the Pacific ocean. Former Pentagon and Obama administration officials say this easily could have led to an all-out war.

    During that period, Congress discussed the F-35 stealth fighter jet as a possible ICBM killer

    "Very simple — what we're trying to do is shoot [air-to-air missiles] off F-35s in the first 300 seconds it takes for the missile to go up in the air," Rep. Duncan Hunter said during a November 2017 meeting on Capitol Hill with the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, according to Inside Defense.

    Read more:The Missile Defense Agency wants a laser-equipped drone that would be a silver bullet for stopping North Korea

    Additionally, the US Missile Defense Agency in June 2017 put out a request for proposals to build a high-altitude long-endurance unmanned aircraft capable of flying higher than 63,000 feet and carrying a laser to shoot down ballistic missiles as they arc upwards towards the sky.

    Both of these systems, a laser drone and an F-35 ICBM killer came up in Trump's new missile defense review. North Korea was mentioned 79 times in the review, the same number of times as Russia, though Moscow likely has 100 times as many nuclear warheads as Pyongyang. 

    But Russia, the world's largest country by far, has a vast airspace no drone or F-35 could patrol. Only North Korea, a small country, makes any sense for these systems. 

    Even defense is offensive

    A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit bomber deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and F-22 Raptors with the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing fly near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, during a interoperability training mission Jan. 15, 2019.

    While the Missile Defense Review in theory discusses only defensive measures against missile attacks, the military does not only defend, it also goes on offense.

    Trump has directed the US to research using the F-35 and possibly a laser drone to take out missile launches which only make sense over North Korea.

    If the US could significantly limit missile retaliation from North Korea it would mitigate the downside of taking out Kim, one of the top threats to US national security. 

    On Friday, a North Korean nuclear negotiator will head to Washington to talk denuclearization with the White House.

    But even as Trump goes ahead trying to find an uneasy peace with Pyongyang, the missile defense review clearly looks to give the US capabilites certain to upset the deterrence relationship and balance between the two nuclear powers. 

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