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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    f 35c f 18 abraham lincoln carrier military

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

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

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

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


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

    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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    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. 

    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 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.

    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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    Type 001A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Putin Angry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    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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    Putin navy military russia

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

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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


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

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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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    NOW WATCH: Apple might introduce three new iPhones this year — here’s what we know

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    air force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What the Air Force wants

    us air force 386 squadrons

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Growing China threat


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    F-22 raptor thermal image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    israeli air force formation blue flag israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

    S 300

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Trends point to a big fight

    F 16 Israel Crash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    maritime boundary claims in south china sea map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    maritime boundary claims in south china sea map

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

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

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

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

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

    F 22 Raptor

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

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

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

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

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

    Wake Island

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

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

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

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    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.

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    f-22 tyndall damange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Lasting damage at Tyndall

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

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

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

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

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