According to a report by the Daily Caller, former Democratic IT aide, Imran Awan, used his position as a congressional IT aide to to pressure local police to drop fraud charges against his father for writing seven fraudulent checks during the course of multiple land purchases.
One of the victims, Mohammad Abid, claimed that the reason the authorities dropped the charges is because Ashraf Awan’s son, Imran “had easy access to the corridors of power”. Abid further alleged that Regional Police Officer (RPO), Ahmed Raza Tahir, was backing Imran and his father.
According to DAWN, sources stated that Imran was using his political influence to influence the police to charge those who had filed complaints against his father, even leading to the arrest of Asim Sheikh, the attorney representing the complainants.
It was further alleged that, “’power muscles’ in the federal capital as well as in the provincial capital had phoned the local police to lend all sorts of help to the US national and his father.”
According to a Democratic IT aide, Imran told him that he had persuaded former White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, to intervene in the matter.
Imran was also said to have been sending money and gifts to government officials in Pakistan, and received protection from Pakistani police. The Daily Caller further reports that Imran was also sending IT equipment to Pakistan during the same period of time in which fraudulent purchase orders for that equipment were filed, and in which over $120,000 of congressional equipment was signed away by the chief of staff for Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY).
This is troubling, not only because it shows how Awan was able to influence high-ranking political figures in the U.S. to intervene in he and his family’s personal matters, but it further shows that Imran was able to use his position to influence high-ranking Pakistani government officials as well.
Because Imran and his brothers had access to some of the most important, classified information relating to our national security, and had attempted to wire $283,000 from the Congressional Federal Credit Union to a bank account in Pakistan, it begs the question: Were they selling our secrets to a foreign country known for harboring the likes of Osama bin Laden?
Roger Stone, having just testified before a closed-door meeting before Congress regarding the DNC security breach on September 26, is claiming that Congressman Schiff and Speier told him at the hearing that the DNC did, in fact, give over its server to the FBI. This contradicts James Comey’s testimony, when he stated that the DNC never handed over the server for investigation.
“The most interesting about the hearing was that, in my statement, I strongly asserted my suspicion that the Russians never hacked the DNC and, of course, one of the central arguments, to that effect, is that the DNC refused to turn over their computer servers to the FBI, instead having it inspected by CrowdStrike, a forensic IT firm controlled directly and paid by the DNC. When I said that, Congresswoman Speier from California corrected me and told me that the DNC servers had been turned over to the FBI, and then Congressman Schiff essentially confirmed that, after which, Trey Gowdy said, ‘wait a minute, James Comey came before this committee, secretary Johnson came before this committee, and testified under oath that the servers were not turned over to the FBI, so what are you talking about?’ Schiff tried to change the subject and said, ‘well, we’ve got a lot of information that we learned during the recess and maybe we should talk about this privately.’ Gowdy seemed furious and stormed out of the hearing, so somebody’s lying.”
The question is, did the DNC turn over its server during the summer recess?
The Washington Post article, “National Security Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump” from June 14, 2016, states that the hacking group known as Fancy Bear “broke into the network in late April and targeted the opposition research files. It was this breach that set off the alarm. The hackers stole two files, Henry said.” The article then states that “The DNC said that no financial, donor or personal information appears to have been accessed or taken, suggesting that the breach was traditional espionage, not the work of criminal hackers.” The article continues, quoting DNC lawyer Michael Sussman of the Perkins Coie firm: “But at this time, it appears that no financial information or sensitive employee, donor or voter information was accessed by the Russian attackers,” he said.
However, in the subsequent article the following day, June 15, entitled “‘Guccifer 2.0’ claims credit for DNC hack“, the Washington Post reports that Guccifer 2.0 posted to a website some of the allegedly stolen documents. They included a file titled “Donald Trump Report,” dated Dec. 19, 2015, and a list of what was purported to be million-dollar-plus donors to the Democratic Party.”
Questions the DNC must answer are, 1) Why did the DNC say that only two opposition research files were taken, and not donor information, when Guccifer 2.0 did indeed take both the opposition files and the donor files? 2) Why did Guccifer 2.0 release the opposition research files, when those files could prove to be harmful to Donald Trump, if he was indeed a hacker on a mission to elect Donald Trump? 3) Did the DNC collude with Guccifer 2.0 in directing him to release the opposition research files? 4) Why did Guccifer 2.0 continue to release opposition research files, when he later released an archive of Sarah Palin’s Twitter messages on July 14, and the first page of the Trump Foundation’s income tax form and the Trump financial report on October 18, if he had already proven that he had hacked the DNC? and 5) What specific part of the software Crowdstrike used to analyze the DNC server would show that only two files were taken, when presumably hackers were in the DNC system for weeks on end?
If the answer is that the DNC or Crowdstrike did not have full visibility into the scale of intrusions on their security infrastructure, is it a coincidence that the only files the DNC or Crowdstrike thought were missing at the time were the two opposition research files, which if released would be damaging only to Trump and not Clinton, and that Guccifer the next day did indeed release those two opposition research files that are harmful to Trump but not Clinton? Those two files were entitled “Donald Trump Report” and “2016 GOP presidential candidates” in the releases. Are these opposition files that Guccifer 2.0 released the same ones that the DNC is referring to, or was Guccifer 2.0 holding on to even more harmful information, and released the Trump report and GOP report to deflect from it? All of the information from the Trump report comes from public sources. On the other hand, why would Guccifer 2.0 release the opposition research if he was supposed to be helping Donald Trump, if he could prove that he has hacked the DNC by sharing any of the 38 other files he subsequently leaked in later months?
(Language warning) (CORRECTION as to casualty count appears near the bottom of this article)
Fresh on the heels of a successful offensive in Mosul, Iraq, the Iraqi military is now poised to retake Tal Afar, long a hotbed of ISIS and other insurgent activity. Before we pulled out of Iraq, Tal Afar, like Fallujah, had been the focal point of multiple large-scale, costly offensives to eject entrenched insurgents. In 2005, then-Colonel H.R. McMaster led the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (3rd ACR) in the largest of these offensives, Operation Restoring Rights. His reputation as a brilliant military strategist rests largely on the results of that one battle. Given the widespread support for McMaster in the media and Washington establishment, it is ironic that current reporting largely fails to mention this battle or McMaster’s central role in it.
McMaster’s widely-hyped strategic acumen has been called into question by high-level military sources with personal knowledge of his conduct in the field. These sources spoke with me on condition of anonymity.
McMaster rests his laurels on the counter-insurgency strategy he claims won the Battle of Tal Afar, Iraq. But sources say McMaster ignored counter-insurgency experts and that his reckless leadership killed between 70 and 85* Americans and almost lost the battle. The battle, the sources say, was won only through a valiant rescue mission during which most of those casualties occurred.*
Until today this information has been suppressed.
Today, National Security Advisor McMaster is facing sustained criticism for his seemingly relentless opposition to Trump policies, his purging of many competent, conservative Trump loyalists from the National Security Council staff, and “protecting and coddling” 40 Obama holdovers — almost one-sixth of the NSC staff — who are plainly out to sabotage the Trump agenda.
Yet he continues to enjoy President Trump’s support. Is President Trump reluctant to fire McMaster for fear of criticism? Has he decided that McMaster’s reputed military genius is worth the cost? Or has he been thoroughly misinformed about McMaster’s character and competence? Who is H.R. McMaster really?
Lieutenant General (three-star) Herbert Raymond McMaster is a career Army officer still on active duty. He came to the Trump administration as a quick replacement for Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (Ret.), who resigned over controversies regarding his contacts with Russian officials. Whatever Flynn may have done wrong, his true sin was bucking the D.C. establishment, including many military leaders. And as frequently happens in Washington, when a strong conservative political appointee faces widespread (often manufactured) controversy, the knee-jerk reaction is to find a replacement the establishment likes. McMaster fits the bill.
On the surface, he appears to have the right resume. He has been awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit and other medals, although John Kerry and many others have proved there are ways to get these medals without earning them. Most of this acclaim comes out of his service at the Battle of 73 Easting (1991), where in 23 minutes, McMaster’s nine M1A1 Abrams tanks and 12 Bradley Fighting Vehicles destroyed 30 Iraqi tanks and 14 armored vehicles. McMaster has been given credit for quick thinking and aggressive action, but his unit faced off against obsolete Iraqi T-55 and T-72 tanks operated by troops with inferior training. His unit was part of a larger operation that experienced similar success, ultimately destroying 85 tanks, 40 personnel carriers, and over 30 other vehicles. As George Dvorsky observes: “the [Republican Guard] didn’t have a chance.”
As the author of the 1997 book, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam, McMaster enjoys a reputation as something of a maverick, a fact which perhaps found favor in the unorthodox Trump administration. The book has been described as “the seminal work on military’s responsibility during Vietnam to confront their civilian bosses when strategy was not working.”
But, as noted above, McMaster’s reputation rests largely on the counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy applied at Tal Afar. It was later hailed by President George W. Bush, who said it, “gives me confidence in our strategy because in this city we see the outlines of the Iraq that we and the Iraqi people have been fighting for…” For once, the media agreed with Bush, published glowing reports on McMaster’s feats. Mother Jones and the Washington Postcalled him the “Hero of Tal Afar.” The left-leaning Slate.comcalls him “the Army’s smartest officer.”
Now leftists are coming out of the woodwork to defend McMaster against his conservative critics. Newsweek accuses the “alt-right” of attempting to smear McMaster, while genuine slime merchants like Media Matters for America are smearing his critics.
When reflexively anti-American, anti-military outlets like Mother Jones, Slate and the Washington Post offer fawning praise for a Republican military commander, the reasons underlying those plaudits deserve further investigation. When anti-American, anti-military, George Soros-funded, extreme leftist smear operations like Media Matters go to war to defend a Trump political appointee, it casts a shadow on everything about the man. When the anti-American, terrorism-supporting, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated CAIR defends an American general, the alarm bells drown out all other sound. And officers who have witnessed his “leadership” in the unforgiving crucible of combat are now sounding the alarm.
It is not unusual in Army practice that studies and reports often gloss over leadership failures by simply not mentioning the leaders who failed. This seems to be the case in an official military report prepared for the U.S. Army’s Combat Studies Institute concerning the conduct of 3rd ACR in Operation Restoring Rights, according to Brave Rifles at the Battle of Tal Afar. The 3rd ACR, also known as the “Brave Rifles,” is comprised of three ground squadrons, the 1st, 2nd and 4th, and a support squadron. Most of the fighting during this operation was conducted by the 2nd Squadron. Its commander, Lt. Col. Christopher M. Hickey, was the man on the ground leading the engaged combat forces.
Virtually all of the action described centers on decisions made by Hickey. McMaster barely gets a mention. The Washington Post‘s account of the battle puts McMaster in the middle of it, though the embedded reporter, Jon Finer, says he didn’t see McMaster until “the operation was winding down.” Brave Rifles does not describe where McMaster was at all, only that he responded to Hickey’s request for more troops by appealing to Task Force Freedom and Multinational Corps–Iraq (pp. 131-132). He likely oversaw the offensive from 3rd ACR’s operations base, FOB Sykes, 7.5 miles south of town (p. 130). Given that he had overall command of the regiment, that is probably where he should have been, except that he seemed to want people to believe he was in the heat of battle. He wasn’t.
The report is not especially critical of Hickey, but if the operation was an unqualified success, McMaster’s role presumably would have been highlighted. McMaster’s Tal Afar COIN strategy is also credited with inspiring Iraq’s 2007 “surge” operation. Yet Brave Rifles makes no such claim.
The report describes a halt in the advance to evacuate civilians that occurred little more than one day into the fight. In a “Frontline” video interview,  McMaster claims the pause was “about three days,” but according to Brave Rifles, it took a full week (p. 142). Officers on the ground during that battle claim that in fact the 2nd Squadron was surrounded and in danger of being annihilated. One Special Forces operative described it as a “goat fuck” (p. 142). A 1,150-strong Special Operations Group joined with other units to launch a rescue mission that would clear a path to McMaster’s beleaguered forces.
The following is an account of that effort provided for this article by the commander of the Special Operations Group. He is a highly decorated retired Special Forces flag officer with decades of service under his belt. His bona fides have been confirmed by other top-level military sources. All have requested anonymity. Given the D.C. establishment’s demonstrated hostility to whistleblowers, you can’t blame them.
Here is his story:
Mine was one of three units sent to rescue McMaster from Tal Afar. McMaster replaced most of the operations people upon assuming command with his admirers — most of whom had limited combat experience at best. The majority never had a troop command, even in peacetime. As an apprentice of David Petraeus, McMaster was recommended to command the 3rd ACR not because of his ability/experience to command a large armored formation but simply so he could get his ticket punched on the way to flag rank.
The strategy called for assault, clear and hold, but McMaster simply ordered the squadron to advance without securing positions taken. This allowed insurgents to come in behind his assault force and it was soon surrounded. It came to be known among the troops as “Little Stalingrad” because of McMaster’s arrogance and disregard of advice from COIN experts. McMaster was thoroughly briefed that Tal Afar was an insurgent stronghold but ignored this intelligence and attempted to take the city by coup de main (surprise attack) using a blitzkrieg strategy like Von Paulus used in the Battle of Stalingrad.
Use of armor in urban warfare is fraught with danger if not carefully coordinated with infantry and combat support. The insurgent force, commanded by former Iraqi officers, allowed McMaster’s column to enter the city, then sprung the trap. As with Von Paulus, McMaster soon found his tanks and tracks hopelessly bogged down in the streets and narrow alleys of Tal Afar.
The insurgents used the city like a giant maze. M1A2s (Abrams main battle tank) have vulnerabilities the insurgents used to their advantage. The Abrams was designed with no escape hatch underneath. The insurgents dropped Molotov cocktails on the tanks from tops of buildings. With the tank on fire, the crew had to exit thru the top of the tank, where they could be fired upon as they climbed out.
The M1A2 is also vulnerable to RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades]. Tal Afar had been ringed with sand berms to make it difficult for insurgents to get away. However, to enter the city, the tanks had to drive over the berms. The M1A2 underbelly is not adequately armored. As the tanks came over the berms, insurgents shot at their undersides with RPGs. The insurgents learned these tactics from the experience of jihadis who fought the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s. McMaster apparently didn’t.
McMaster attempted to paint a rosy picture of the assault but it soon became apparent to others his unit was in trouble. McMaster estimated the assault would take one-and-a-half days to complete, but by that time the 2nd Squadron was trapped. The official record claims that they halted the assault to allow civilians to evacuate. The truth is that they had become surrounded and couldn’t move.
My SF unit, just off another operation, was ordered to re-deploy and fight our way in to open a supply route into the city to replenish ammo and supplies and Medevac the wounded. Earlier attempts to drop supplies by helicopter met intense fire and risked supplies falling into enemy hands. It took us three days to battle our way to them. I lost 40 men KIA [killed in action] in one day and a total of 50 lost from my unit alone during the pause, with many more wounded.
The operation which was supposed to last 2 days, turned into an 18-day battle, with the 3rd ACR being decimated. Many soldiers died later in field hospitals overloaded with wounded. Many civilians were not evacuated until after the forces engaged, and they too suffered many dead and wounded.
This fiasco was covered up by McMaster’s good friend, mentor and fellow West Pointer, David Petraeus, who worried that revealing the depth of McMaster’s mistakes would reflect badly on him as well.
McMaster is a political officer who took credit for the hard work and sacrifice of others. He advanced his own career and burnished his myth with the help of David Petraeus and John McCain. A deeper research into Army records including casualties and vehicle losses will paint an accurate picture of the debacle, not mythical accounts.
The truth about Tal Afar is that a major cover up has allowed an unqualified officer to occupy one of the most critical positions in our national security apparatus.
According to the Brave Rifles report, 2nd Squadron lost 8 men and 12 soldiers from other units who joined them in the fight and 38 friendly Iraqi soldiers and 6 Iraqi policemen also perished.** (p. 147). According to the Special Forces officer, however, losses actually included:
Approximately 250 killed in action, including 70 to 85 American troops* and approximately 165 to 180 friendly Iraqi forces
1 HH47 Chinook helicopter
4 Blackhawk helicopters
4 M1A2 Abrams Tanks
30 Bradley Fighting Vehicles
Heavy losses of 5-ton trucks and fuel tankers
McMaster’s reputation for arrogance and incompetence filtered down to the rank and file as well.
Mathew Bocian served in the U.S. Army as a cavalry scout with 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry (Stryker). He deployed to Mosul and Tal Afar in 2004 and to Baghdad for The Surge in 2007. He has written a book about it, The Ghosts of Tal Afar. Bocian’s unit was in Tal Afar when McMaster’s 3rd ACR showed up.
[T]he regiment’s senior leadership thought they were hot-shit, and would teach us a thing or two. I was in a Squadron-wide officer call when good old H.R himself told the room not to worry – the real cav[alry] was here, and they brought the “big guns”. We deterred Hajj [the insurgents] by going into town every day – yes, even Al Sarai [the insurgent stronghold] because if you didn’t, Hajj took more and more control of the town; they were trying to drive a wedge between U.S. Forces and the Iraqi populous [sic]
3rd ACR’s idea of deterrence was to park a few tanks up at the castle and occasionally shoot main gun rounds over Al Sarai and into the empty desert. Yeah. That worked for all of about an hour until the Hajj (who are pretty fucking smart) got wise to the scheme and weren’t afraid of the sound. All that did was keep the residents in their homes so the only folks who went out were the bad dudes.
Not long after we returned to Mosul to take part of the Brigade’s new offensive to seal off all of Mosul, 3rd ACR launched an offensive of their own. They had opted to “assess” the situation for a week and had neglected certain parts of Tal’Afar – including Al Sarai. They lost a tank, a Bradley and an M-88 recovery vehicle in that initial push – and taking heavy fire and multiple casualties, were repelled by the Hajj, who had entrenched themselves in the area given plenty of time to prepare.
I don’t know how many soldiers 3rd ACR lost, or had wounded in Tal’Afar, but I look back in disgrace and wonder if their leadership had listened and were less cocky, if their losses could have been fewer.
Other sources I interviewed say that McMaster has very few admirers in the general officer corps and was considered to be just another typical “political general.”
He has not been given any battle commands since he was promoted to general. They say he would never have made general rank without the help of David Petraeus. He was passed over twice for promotion to flag rank, and didn’t get his first star until Army Secretary Peter Geren, a former Democratic congressman from Texas, took the unprecedented step of pulling General Petraeus from a combat command and appointing him to chair the Army’s promotion board, which Geren also hand-picked.
Petraeus, of whom it has been said, “throughout his military career had worn his ambition like a strong aftershave,” saw to McMaster’s star. Then-Army Chief of Staff General George Casey concluded, “If McMaster weren’t such a smart-ass, he would have been promoted a long time ago.”
General officers require Senate confirmation both for appointment and advancement. McMaster’s Senate champion was and still is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain advocated replacing Flynn with McMaster. McCain described McMaster as “a man of genuine intellect, character and ability.”
To obtain his fourth star, McMaster must please his Senate overlords and their allies in the military — i.e. the establishment. This virtually guarantees a NSC advisor beholden to the swamp. In a recent interview with Breitbart News, Erik Prince, founder of the military contractor Blackwater, said:
[T]he danger of appointing a serving general, a three-star general that wants to be a four-star general, means that that general will always go with his service. If it’s a long-retired guy that’s not worried about a promotion, I think it’s easier to give objective advice. That’s the danger of having a serving officer as the national security director.
It is worth noting that Trump had consulted Prince extensively regarding Afghanistan strategy and Prince had been invited to join him at Camp David deliberations, but McMaster allegedly took him off the list at the last minute.
It seems the height of irony that Iraqi forces are now entering Tal Afar again, this time with Iran-backed militias — responsible for killing many Americans in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
My source concludes: “With McMaster now as National Security Advisor, maybe some aspiring young Army officer will write a sequel to McMaster’s book and call it, LtGen McMaster: Dereliction of Duty II. We can only hope General Mattis and General Kelly, along with a very distinguished group on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, give our President competent and honest military advice and guidance, not tainted by ‘what’s in it for me’ from a man who is a legend only in his own mind.”
James Simpson is an economist, businessman and investigative journalist. His latest book is The Red Green Axis: Refugees, Immigration and the Agenda to Erase America. Follow Jim onTwitter & Facebook.
*The Special Forces flag officer who served as the primary source for this article acknowledged after the article was initially published that he had previously provided incorrect casualty figures from the Battle of Tal Afar. The resulting errors in this article have been corrected and where they have been corrected there now appears an asterisk (*).
**The Iraqi casualties from the Brave Rifles report were not stated in the original article but in light of the flag officer’s now-corrected information, we have included those figures.
 Ricardo A. Herrera, “Brave Rifles at the Battle of Tal Afar,” In In Contact! Case Studies from the Long War, Volume I, ed. William G. Robinson (Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2006), pp. 125-147.
Amazon Fails To Follow, Much Less Lead in Privacy Best Practices, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft Fail to Promise They Will Stand Up to FBI Gag Orders
San Francisco, California—While many technology companies continue to step up their privacy game by adopting best practices to protect sensitive customer information when the government demands user data, telecommunications companies are failing to prioritize user privacy when the government comes knocking, an EFF annual survey shows. Even tech giants such as Apple, Facebook, and Google can do more to fully stand behind their users.
EFF’s seventh annual “Who Has Your Back” report, released today, digs into the ways many technology companies are getting the message about user privacy in this era of unprecedented digital surveillance. The data stored on our mobile phones, laptops, and especially our online services can, when aggregated, paint a detailed picture of our lives—where we go, who we see, what we say, our political affiliations, our religion, and more.
“This information is a magnet for governments seeking to surveil citizens, journalists, and activists. When governments do so, they need to follow the law, and users are increasingly demanding that companies holding their data enact the toughest policies to protect customer information,” said EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman.
EFF evaluated the public policies at 26 companies and awarded stars in five categories. This year EFF included two new categories: “promises not to sell out users,” and “stands up to NSL gag orders.” The first reflects our concern about the stated goal of several members of government to co-opttech companies to track people by their immigration status or religion. We awarded stars to companies that prohibit developers and third parties from capturing user data to assist governments in conducting surveillance.
We also awarded stars to companies that exercise their right to make the government initiate judicial review of gag orders that prohibit them from publicly disclosing they have received a National Security Letter (NSL). NSLs—secret FBI demands for user information issued with no oversight from any court—permit the FBI to unilaterally gag recipients, a power EFF believes is unconstitutional. Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have failed to promise to step up and exercise the right to have the government put NSL gag orders before a court.
Nine companies earned stars in every category this year: Adobe, Credo, Dropbox, Lyft, Pinterest, Sonic, Uber, Wickr, and WordPress. Each has a track record of defending user privacy against government overreach and improved on their practices to meet the more stringent standards in this year’s Who Has Your Back.
Two tech companies lagged behind in the industry: Amazon and WhatsApp, both of which earned just two stars. EFF’s survey showed that while both companies have done significant work to defend user privacy—EFF especially lauds WhatsApp’s move to adopt end-to-end encryption by default for its billion users around the world—their policies still lag behind. Online retail giant Amazon has been rated number one in customer service, yet it hasn’t made the public commitments to stand behind its users’ digital privacy that the rest of the industry has.
AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Verizon scored the lowest, each earning just one star. While they have adopted a number of industry best practices, like publishing transparency reports and requiring a warrant for content, they still need to commit to informing users before disclosing their data to the government and creating a public policy of requesting judicial review of all NSLs.
“The tech industry as a whole has moved toward providing its users with more transparency, but telecommunications companies—which serve as the pipeline for communications and Internet service for millions of Americans—are failing to publicly push back against government overreach,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. “Both legacy telcos and the giants of Silicon Valley can and must do better. We expect companies to protect, not exploit, the data we have entrusted them with.”
Congress should sanction China operations due to synthetic opioid production and should also list all variants of synthetic opioids as weapons of mass destruction under the chemical and biological weapons convention. DEA now has offices in China to work with officials there and investigation trafficking patterns.
The United States consumes 85% of all the world’s natural and synthetic opiates, which in 2015 factored in 33,091 U.S. deaths, up more than 4000 from the previous year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. When average U.S. life expectancies for men and women edged downward last year, for the first time in decades, many health professionals blamed opiate abuse.
The opium poppy is no longer the starting point for many of the opiates on the street. The new compounds, often sold mixed with heroin, originate in illicit labs in China. “For the cartels, why wait for a field of poppies to grow and harvest if you can get your hands on the precursor chemicals and cook a batch of fentanyl in a lab?” says Tim Reagan, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA’s) Cincinnati office.
In late 2015, the drug agency persuaded its Chinese counterpart to add 116 synthetic drugs to its list of controlled substances; fentanyl and several analogs were included. In response, underground Chinese labs began tweaking the fentanyl molecule, which is easy to alter for anyone with basic knowledge of chemistry and lab tools. By adding chemical groups, unscrupulous chemists have created new, unregulated variants, some of them even more potent than the original.
Hoping to stem the tide of synthetic opiates, DEA has taken the fight to China, as prolific a maker of illicit drugs as it is of legitimate chemicals. According to a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report last month, “China is a global source of illicit fentanyl and other [new psychoactive substances] because the country’s vast chemical and pharmaceutical industries are weakly regulated and poorly monitored.” In response to U.S. pressure, China has scheduled fentanyl and several other derivatives. More here.
U-47700 is a short-acting synthetic opioid analgesic that first became available via online vendors in late 2014. It has only a short history of human use. U-47700 has been detected in counterfeit pharmaceutical opioids and associated with deaths.
Mar-Apr 2016 – Fake oxycodone tablets containing U-47700 are seized by law enforcement in Ohio and fake Norco tablets containing U-47700 and fentanyl appear in the Sacramento, CA area.
A test-fire of new ground-to-ground medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 was successfully carried out on Sunday by scientists and technicians in the field of rocket research, who are bravely advancing toward a new goal to be proud of in the world, true to the far-sighted idea of Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, for building a nuclear power.
Kim Jong Un guided the test-fire on the spot.
Looking at Hwasong-12, he expressed his satisfaction over the possession of another “Juche weapon”, a perfect weapon system congruous with the military strategic and tactical idea of the WPK and the demand of the present times.
The test-fire was conducted at the highest angle in consideration of the security of neighboring countries. The test-fire aimed at verifying the tactical and technological specifications of the newly-developed ballistic rocket capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead.
According to the order of Kim Jong Un, the new rocket Hwasong-12 was launched at 04:58 on Sunday.
The rocket accurately hit the targeted open waters 787km away after flying to the maximum altitude of 2 111.5km along its planned flight orbit.
The test-fire proved to the full all the technical specifications of the rocket, which was newly designed in a Korean-style by defence scientists and technicians, like guidance and stabilization systems, structural system and pressurization, inspection and launching systems and reconfirmed the reliability of new rocket engine under the practical flight circumstances.
It also verified the homing feature of the warhead under the worst re-entry situation and accurate performance of detonation system.
Kim Jong Un hugged officials in the field of rocket research, saying that they worked hard to achieve a great thing. And he had a picture taken with officials, scientists and technicians who took part in the test-fire.
Highly appreciating again their devotion for manufacturing the Korean-style medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket, he gave a special thanks to them on behalf of himself.
He said with confidence that the successful test-fire of Hwasong-12, a demonstration of high-level defence science and technology of the DPRK, is of great and special significance for securing peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and the region and is the greatest victory of the Korean people.
He declared that the DPRK is a nuclear power worthy of the name whether someone recognizes it or not. He stressed the DPRK will keep strict control over those engaging themselves in nuclear blackmail with its nuclear deterrence which has been unimaginably and rapidly developed.
The U.S. massively brought nuclear strategic assets to the vicinity of the Korean peninsula to threaten and blackmail the DPRK, but the coward American-style fanfaronade militarily browbeating only weak countries and nations which have no nukes can never work on the DPRK and is highly ridiculous, he said, stressing that if the U.S. dares opt for a military provocation against the DPRK, we are ready to counter it.
The most perfect weapon systems in the world will never become the eternal exclusive property of the U.S., he said, expressing the belief that the day when the DPRK uses the similar retaliatory means will come. He continued that on this occasion, the U.S. had better see clearly whether the ballistic rockets of the DPRK pose actual threat to it or not.
If the U.S. awkwardly attempts to provoke the DPRK, it will not escape from the biggest disaster in the history, he said, strongly warning the U.S. not to disregard or misjudge the reality that its mainland and Pacific operation region are in the DPRK’s sighting range for strike and that it has all powerful means for retaliatory strike.
He gave the scientists and technicians in the field of rocket research the order to continuously develop more precise and diversified nukes and nuclear striking means, not content with the successes, and make preparations for more tests till the U.S. and its vassal forces make a proper choice with reason.
ATN: North Korea launched a missile in a test early in the morning of May 14, North Korean time. If the information that has been reported about the test are correct, the missile has considerably longer range than its current missiles.
Reports from Japan say that the missile fell into the Sea of Japan after traveling about 700 km (430 miles), after flying for about 30 minutes.
A missile with a range of 1,000 km (620 miles), such as the extended-range Scud, or Scud-ER, would only have a flight time of about 12 minutes if flown on a slightly lofted trajectory that traveled 700 km.
A 30-minute flight time would instead require a missile that was highly lofted, reaching an apogee of about 2,000 km (1,240 miles) while splashing down at a range of 700 km. If that same missile was flown on a standard trajectory, it would have a maximum range of about 4,500 km (2,800 miles).
This range is considerably longer than the estimated range of the Musudan missile, which showed a range of about 3,000 km in a test last year. Guam is 3,400 km from North Korea. Reaching the US West Coast would require a missile with a range of more than 8,000 km. Hawaii is roughly 7,000 km from North Korea.
This missile may have been the new mobile missile seen in North Korea’s April 15 parade (Fig. 2). It appears to be a two-stage liquid-fueled missile.
Fig. 2 (Source: KCNA)
Fig. 1 The black curve is the lofted trajectory flown on the test. The red curve is the same missile flown on a normal (MET) trajectory.
Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified today on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held a hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified. Ms. Yates spoke about two late January 2017 meetings she had with the White House general counsel about certain behavior of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and her concerns that Gen. Flynn had become the subject of potential blackmail by Russia. She also explained her conclusion that President Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees was unlawful; she was fired as acting attorney general for refusing to enforce the order.
First, highlights from around the web.
Trump tweeted prior to hearings:
Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Counsel.
For full details of the hearing including video clips continue below. All Video Sourced from LIVE ON-AIR NEWS
Sally Yates Opening Statements
“We weren’t the only ones that knew all of this… the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done, and the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others… Not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information, and that created a compromise situation––a situation where the national security advisor essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.”
Lindsey Graham Grills Sally Yates At Senate Hearing
Senator Lindsey Graham took a thinly-veiled shot at President Donald Trump during his opening remarks at the Sally Yates congressional hearing on Monday.
‘From my point of view, there’s no doubt in my mind it was the Russians involved in all the things I just described — not some 400-pound guy sitting on a bed, or any other country,” Graham said.
The weight phrase is a reference to a line Mr. Trump gave at the first presidential debate in September 2016 to counter Hillary Clinton: “[Clinton is] saying Russia, Russia, Russia. Maybe, it was. It could also be China. It could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
The South Carolina senator had just outlined that “the intelligence community unanimously said that the Russians, through their intelligence services, tried to interfere in the 2016 American presidential election — that it was the Russians who hacked [John] Podesta’s e-mails; it was the Russians who broke into the Democratic National Committee; it was Russians who helped empower Wikileaks.”
Senator Graham later underlined that “Russia is up to no good when it comes to democracies all over the world.” He added that “it could be our campaigns next” — a reference to the upcoming congressional elections in 2018.
Chuck Grassley GRILLS James Clapper & Sally Yates On Unmasking
Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates spoke publicly in her testimony to the Senate about what she spoke to White House Counsel Don McGahn regarding National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
She said she had spoken with McGahn because she was aware of comments that had been made by Vice President Mike Pence and others about what Flynn said in his call with the Russian ambassador that “we knew not to be the truth.”
Yates spoke about Flynn’s “problematic” conduct and confirmed a report from back in February that she warned the White House Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail: “We weren’t the only ones that knew all of this… the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done, and the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others… Not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information, and that created a compromise situation––a situation where the national security advisor essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.”
Yates recalled that McGahn had asked if Flynn should be fired and she said she responded that wasn’t her call.
Ted Cruz Grills Sally Yates For Refusing To Defend Travel ban Executive Order
Ted Cruz and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates squared off in a testy showdown over President Donald Trump‘s proposed travel ban — which, in its original form, proposed a ban on travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Yates was fired by Trump after refusing to implement the ban, which was eventually ruled to be unconstitutional by a Federal Circuit Court.
The Texas senator, in his allotted time for questioning at Monday’s Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing about interference in the 2016 election, pressed Yates on the ban. He asked if she was familiar with 8 U.S.C. 1182. Yates said she wasn’t.“Well, it is the binding statutory authority for the executive order that you refused to implement and that led to your termination,” Cruz said. “So it certainly is a relevant and not a terribly obscure statute.”
Cruz then proceeded to quote from the statute: Whenever the President finds that the entry of any alien or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interest of the United States, he may by proclamation and for such period as he shall deem necessary suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or non-immigrants or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem appropriate.
“Would you agree that that is broad statutory authorization?” Cruz asked.
Yates wasted no time with her response: “I would, and I am familiar with that, and I’m also familiar with an additional provision of the INA that says ‘no person shall receive preference or be discriminated against in issuance of a visa because of race, nationality or place of birth.’ That, I believe, was promulgated after the statute that you just quoted. And that’s been part of the discussion with the courts with respect to the INA is whether this more specific statute trumps the first one that you just described. But my concern was not an INA concern here. It rather was a Constitutional concern, whether or not the executive order here violated the Constitution specifically with the establishment clause and equal protection and due process.”
A historically small fleet and a relentless operational tempo are proving the Navy is too small to meet more than its bare minimum requirement around the world, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran told a Senate panel on Wednesday.
“We know we’re too small for what we’re being asked to do today,” Moran told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on readiness and management support.
“A smaller fleet operating at the same pace is wearing out faster. Work has increased, and we’re asking an awful lot of our sailors and Navy civilians to fix [it].”
Currently, the Navy has about 275 active ships and about 322, 000 active duty sailors. According to Moran that’s down from a 2001 total of 316 ships and more than 400,000 sailors. That difference is also compounded by an increased demand on the service by the geographical combatant commanders – for whom the Navy can only meet 40 percent of their demand, he said.
Moran was one of four U.S. military service number-twos that spent Tuesday and Wednesday testifying before the House and Senate armed services committees on the woes in the services ahead of an anticipated Trump Administration 2017 supplemental spending measure that would likely do away with Budget Control Act of 2011 spending limits – the so-called sequestration caps.
“It starts by strengthening the foundation of the Navy by ensuring the aircraft, ships and submarines we do have are maintained and modernized to ensure they meet the full measure of their combat power,” he said.
Sailors perform maintenance on an F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Top Hatters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 14 USS John C. Stennis’ (CVN 74) hangar bay on Jan. 22, 2016. US Navy photo.
Moran rang readiness alarms across the service – from more than half of the F/A-18 Hornet and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet unable to fly to the attack boat USS Boise (SSN-765) losing its diving certification because the public shipyards do not have the capacity to bring the submarine in for a maintenance availability.
“Because of the capacity limitations and the workforce limitations that we’ve had and our inability to get some of our work in the private yards, we’ve had to delay submarines like Boise for extended period of time,” he said.
“The priorities to fix ships in our public yards are our boomers, because of our national strategic deterrence, followed by our aircraft carriers and then we get down into the SSN world.”
High demand for Hornet strike capacity and low throughput in maintenance depots have led to the current backlog in fighters that can’t operate safely.
“For our entire Hornet fleet – the Hornet and Super Hornet fleet – we have 62 percent that are not flyable,” Moran said.
“On a typical day, it’s 30 percent if everything is going well, 30 percent that’s either in the depot or on the flight line that’s not flyable. We’re double where we should be.”
The hearings Tuesday and Wednesday fall in line with the tenor of similar readiness hearings over the last several years during the sequestration era in which service leader warn Congress of readiness issues with limited relief.
However, with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and a White House that has made military readiness, modernization and expansion a major priority, the services could find their readiness gripes more than answered before the end of the year.
This post has been updated with a statement from U.S. 5th Fleet.
Sam LaGrone | USNI
The crew of the guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG-72) fired three warning shots toward off four armed attack boats coming at the ship at high speed, a defense official confirmed to USNI News on Monday.
On Sunday, Mahan was transiting the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf when the four Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy fast inshore attack craft (FIAC) came at the destroyer at a high rate of speed with their crew-served weapons manned, the official told USNI News.
After several attempts to warn off the boats with radio communications, siren and the ship’s whistle the boats came within 900 yards of the guided missile destroyer before the crew fired three warning shots from one of the ships .50 caliber guns.
After the shots were fired, the boats broke off.
Mahan was underway along with the big deck amphib USS Makin Island (LHD-8) and U.S. a fleet oiler, the official said.
A helicopter from Makin Island also deployed a smoke screen generator, a so-called “smoke float” that did not deter the IRGCN boats.
“Naval Forces Central Command assesses this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional due to the IRGCN’s vessels high-speed approach on Mahan with weapons manned and disregard for repeated warnings via radio, audible siren and ship’s whistle, which only arrested following warning shots being fired,” read a statement from U.S. 5th Fleet provided to USNI News.
The latest clash with the IRGCN follows several high-profile encounters in August and September between IRGCN patrol boats and comes almost a year after IRGCN forces detained ten U.S. sailors who strayed into Iranian waters in the Farsi Island.
The IRGCN is separate from the Iranian Navy and has been responsible for Iranian costal defense since 2007.
They report to Iran’s religious government and are given free reign to, “boldly and courageously” in the performance of its duties, a former defense official told USNI News.
The following is a Jan. 9 statement from U.S. 5th Fleet on the encounter.
Four Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) fast inshore attack
craft (FIAC) approached the guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG-72) at a
high rate of speed with their weapons manned as the ship was transiting
international waters in the Strait of Hormuz on Jan. 8.
Mahan established radio communications with the IRGCN vessels and issued
multiple radio and visual warnings to remain clear. Disregarding the
warnings, the IRGCN vessels continued to directly approach Mahan at a high
rate of speed. Mahan then fired three warning shots with a crew-served 50
caliber machine gun, and the IRGCN vessels arrested their high-speed
Naval Forces Central Command assesses this interaction as unsafe and
unprofessional due to the IRGCN’s vessels high-speed approach on Mahan with
weapons manned and disregard for repeated warnings via radio, audible siren,
and ship’s whistle, which only arrested following warning shots being fired.
The document will fill in gaps for several pushes the surface establishment has announced over the last two years to create a cohesive path forward for the force.
“There was a picture that we were building, we just had to get that picture into focus. You want to be impatient, you want it into focus as rapidly as you can, but you may focus on the wrong picture,” Vice Adm. Tom Rowden told USNI News last week.
“This is our North Star, if you will. All the conversations we’ve had over the last three, four years, and starts to focus them in a single direction that will drive resources.”
For Rowden, that direction is sea control.
“Sea control does not mean command of all the seas, all the time. Rather, it is the capability and capacity to impose localized control of the sea when and where it is required to enable other objectives and to hold it as long as necessary to accomplish those objectives,” reads the strategy.
That flavor of sea control was the driving force of the Navy during the Cold War.
“Every time we got underway… we were in this shadowboxing match with the Soviet Navy over control of the sea. The way we operated… was to go toe-to-toe with the Soviet Union and wrest control of the sea,” Rowden said.
“That changed when the Cold War was lost by the Soviet Union and they virtually, in very short period of time, tied up their ships, and we woke one day and we had control of every square inch of ocean on the face of the earth.”
Instead of sea control, the emphasis for the surface navy post-Cold War – starting with the first Gulf War – was on power projection. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that direction included land attack and ballistic missile defense responsibilities.
High-end and high seas warfare against a near peer competitor were not front and center of the Navy’s consciousness. For example, the last Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyer to commission with a dedicated over-the-horizon anti-ship missile was USS Porter (DDG-78) in 1999.
“It seems to me that we’ve been focusing on something different. We have to return to thinking about this balance of power projection and sea control,” Rowden said.
But in early 2015, the surface forces announced a reemphasis on the higher-end fight – distributed lethality. The idea was to expand the offensive capability of the surface fleet through modification of existing weapons, changes in tactics and putting more firepower on more ships faster.
To that end, the strategy recommends four paths for investment – increase firepower of surface warships, support the Navy’s long-range shipbuilding plan and modernization strategy, improve battle space awareness, and improve learning in the surface forces.
“Part of my drive is to take a look at the weapons and weapon systems that we have and see what modification we can make to those to maximize their value, and how rapidly can we do it,” Rowden said.
“Prime example, Standard Missile 6, [was] originally designed to be a surface-to-air weapon. We’ve been able to modify that weapon to not only execute effectively as a surface-to-air weapon but also as a surface-to-surface weapon. “
The Navy is also developing a maritime version of the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile and studying whether it could use the Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti-Surface Missile, Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile and a modified Boeing Harpoon to increase anti-surface offensive power.
In the realm of modernization and shipbuilding, the surface forces are evaluating existing platforms for modernization – like the remaining Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers.
“Even though they’re scheduled for decommissioning starting in the early ‘20s timeframe, the fact of the matter is we still have a very capable combat system even on our older cruisers. If the leadership decides that it’s a better idea to keep the force structure up for a modest investment we can continue to the life of those cruisers well into the 20s. That’s an option that we want to put on the table for leadership,” Rowden said.
“We’re doing a bunch of stuff like that. As more resources flow, here are more options, here is more ability to get the force structure up.”
The strategy also calls for the, “continued development of combat systems capabilities with improvements to mission planning software, battle management software for Warfare Commanders, and tools to manage unit and force level emissions. The efforts in this overarching objective are also intended to capitalize on advanced Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare (EMW) technologies, such as the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program.”
While equipment has been the focal point of the distributed lethality effort, the strategy also includes pushes in improving and honing personnel and tactics.
“People like to focus on the flash to bang, but I’m also pleased in where we are in the supporting organizations necessary to move these thoughts and ideas on the tools forward as well,” Rowden said.
The new command that creates specialized surface warfare officers in the realms of mine, anti-submarine, amphibious and surface warfare is set to be the intellectual heart of the surface renaissance. Complex requirements and tactics problems that were difficult to staff are now given to SMWDC, Rowden said.
“Controlling the sea isn’t about surface ships and surface weapons, controlling the sea is about utilization of all of the different types of arrows in the quiver,” Rowden said.
Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
USNI News polled its writers, naval analysts and service members on what they consider the most important military and maritime stories in 2016.
Farsi Island Incident
Early in 2016, ten U.S. sailors strayed into the territorial waters of Iranian-controlled Farsi Island and were captured by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy forces. They were held for a day before Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated their return with his Iranian counterpart.
The crews from the two riverine boats were returned with their weapons, but not before images of the sailors held at gunpoint were broadcast over Iranian television.
Following the release of the sailors, the service undertook an investigation into the chain of mistakes that led to the sailors to stray into Iranian waters.
“Not only was the crew not prepared or trained adequately to perform their mission on Jan. 12 but the investigation also found a ‘can do/will do’ leadership environment in the parent unit, ‘frequently compromised appropriate risk management and procedural compliance’,” read a summary of the report USNI News reported on when the final report came out in June.
In total, nine sailors were disciplined as a result of the findings, including the leader of the detachment, Lt. David Nartker. Nartker was given a punitive letter of reprimand – likely a career-ender. During the investigation he justified his actions to investigators.
“We might have all been dead at that point in time. I didn’t want to start a war with Iran either. That was also on my mind. I didn’t want to start a war that would get people killed. My thought at the end of the day was that no one had to die for a misunderstanding,” Nartker told investigators.
The U.S. Navy made effective use of its carrier force in operations against ISIS and through presence operations in the Western Pacific.
Additionally, strike groups attached to USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) operated together in rare dual-carrier operations in June as Big Navy began emphasizing higher end warfare.
Before the dual-carrier operations, Stennis spent several weeks in the South China Sea as part of U.S. presence operations.
The Case of Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin
In April, the Navy charged a member of one of its most sensitive units with two instances of espionage, three instances of attempted espionage and several instances of mishandling classified information and failing to report contact with foreign agents. Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin was detained by NCIS agents on Sept. 11, 2015, and was quietly held in pretrial confinement at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Chesapeake, Va., until his story made international headlines
Lin, who immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan and joined the Navy in 1999, was a department head in Special Projects Patrol Squadron Two ‘Wizards’ (VPU-2). The unit flies highly specialized signals intelligence aircraft and uses specialized equipment to understand how potential adversary communication and weapon systems function. Lin also served as a congressional liaison for the service. In both roles, Lin would have access to some of the Navy’s most sensitive secrets. However, as additional information about the case trickled out from pre-trial hearings and motion documents, it seemed less and less likely that Lin revealed the most sensitive information he knew to an FBI informant in a combined NCIS and U.S. Justice Department sting. Lin’s attorneys allege he was entrapped in the government’s sting operation.
In June, a Russian frigate shadowing the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG) attempted to get between USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) and its escort USS Gravely (DDG-107) and came within 300 yards of the carrier.
“The crew of Gravely and the carrier determined the Russian frigate ‘was intentionally trying to interfere with Harry S. Truman operations,’” a defense official told USNI News. However, the Kremlin released a heavily edited video that appeared to show Gravely cut in front of the 4,000-ton Russian frigate Yaroslav Mudry (FF-727).
Two week later, the same frigate came within 150 yards of USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) operating in the same area.
A report of the incident obtained by USNI News accused 4,400-ton Mudry of coming within 150 yards of the cruiser and quickly turning away in a manner described as “highly unprofessional” and as a “high-risk maneuver.”
In July, the Russians sent a surveillance ship to monitor operations during the 2016 Rim of the Pacific exercise, a move the Russians haven’t made since the Cold War.
“The ship’s presence has not affected the conduct of the exercise and we’ve taken all precautions necessary to protect our critical information,” U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Clint Ramsden told USNI News at the time.
Also at RIMPAC, a Russian destroyer shadowed the Navy’s newest amphibious warship USS America (LHA-6) during the exercise.
“Though the Russian ship at times had its bow pointed directly at America and was closing in, America commanding Capt. Michael Baze said the Russian CO was experienced and acting professionally and was ‘definitely doing a really good job maneuvering the ship’ at such close proximity,” USNI News reported from America.
In September, a Russian Su-27 Flanker came within 10 feet of a Navy P-8A Poseidon in a buzz over the Black Sea.
“During the intercept, which lasted approximately 19 minutes, the Su-27 initially maintained a 30-foot separation distance then closed to within 10 feet of the P-8A, which is considered unsafe and unprofessional,” read a statement provided to USNI News at the time.
“We have deep concerns when there is an unsafe maneuver. These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident which results in serious injury or death,” read a Pentagon statement at the time.
USS Mason Fends off Rogue Cruise Missiles, Navy Retaliates
While patrolling off the coast of Yemen, USS Mason (DDG-87) came under fire in three separate attacks believed to have been fired by presumably Iran-backed Houthi rebels using Chinese C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles.
Mason and several other U.S. ships were patrolling near the Bab el-Mandeb strait following an attack on a UAE-operated supply ship.
“Those who threaten our forces should know that U.S. commanders retain the right to defend their ships, and we will respond to this threat at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in October.
SEAL, EOD Sailors Die in Fight Against ISIS
Two sailors died on the ground in as part of the U.S. support in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Keating was part of a quick reaction force that responded to aid a U.S. advise-and-assist team that were in the fight between Kurdish and ISIS fighters near the town of Tel Askuf.
“After the enemy forces [punched] through the forward lines there and made their move into Tel Askuf, our forces automatically became kind of embroiled in the ensuing battle,” U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren said on May 4.
“They rapidly called for the quick reaction force and continued on the fight until such time one service member was shot and then medevaced out.”
“Finan, from Anaheim, Calif., was assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Three in Coronado, Calif. He had been serving as an advisor to Iraqi security forces fighting the Islamic State, according to a statement by Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. Finan was killed when an improvised explosive device exploded,” wrote USNI News.
On Nov. 24, explosive ordnance disposal sailor Senior Chief Scott Dayton died from wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device (IED) in Syria.
The Virginia Beach-based Dayton, 42, was operating about 35 miles north of the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa in the town of Ayn Issa when the IED exploded.
The deaths of the three sailors gave rare glimpses into anti-ISIS ground efforts conducted by the U.S. in Iraq and Syria.
The Design for Maritime Superiority
Less than a week into 2016, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson released his guidance for the service.
“The Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority lays out four lines of effort for the Navy: strengthen naval power at and from the sea, achieve high velocity learning at every level, strengthen our Navy team for the future, and expand and strengthen our network of partners,” USNI wrote at the design’s release.
Since the release, the dense guidance has begun to trickle into the Navy’s strategic thought and shaping new doctrine for the service.
“We will remain the world’s finest Navy only if we all fight each and every minute to get better,” Richardson wrote at its release.
“Our competitors are focused on taking the lead – we must pick up the pace and deny them. The margins of victory are razor thin – but decisive.”
Navy Fighter Readiness
As U.S. Navy tactical aviation was a key factor in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State, the readiness of the aircraft was of growing concern to the service and to Congress.
In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, the commodore of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic, Capt. Randy Stearns, told lawmakers that three out of four F/A-18s were not ready to go to war and it could take a year for the service to field a reserve air wing for a surge carrier strike group.
“We’re chewing up about 40 aircraft worth of hours a month, and if we’re not buying that much or putting that much through the depot – we’re falling behind,” Stearns said.
The warfighting demand, delays of the Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter entering the fleet, and sequestration cuts from the Budget Control Act of 2011 were key factors in the readiness shortfall.
On a smaller scale, the Marines – through the Marine Corps Force 2025 effort that looks at restructuring the force to meet current and future needs such as cyber and electronic warfare, and the Sea Dragon 2025 experimentation effort to test out new concepts and technologies – have looked at many ways to use smaller unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). At the MAGTF Integrated Experiment (MIX) 2016, ground robots intended to help carry Marine gear on foot patrols were also used for reconnaissance, sensing and locating enemies over a ridge line based on radio frequency signatures, and then lasing and firing guided weapons at enemy targets as needed. The experiment also tested launching Lethal Miniature Aerial Munitions Systems from vehicles such as the Light Armored Vehicle (LAV), which often push forward first and in a dispersed manner and could use these small UAVs to further extend the Marines’ range forward. And the Marines at MIX 16 looked at using the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter’s sensors and command and control capability to control UAVs.
On the logistics side, the Marine Corps is considering a number of ways that UAVs of varying sizes could resupply Marine forces dispersed in remote areas, dangerous areas and others where traditional truck convoys are not the best way to deliver spare parts, ammunition and other goods.
Defensively, the Marine Corps is looking at operating in an environment with enemy drones that can watch or even shoot at Marines. Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said the service will increasingly include drones in force-on-force training, giving the opposing forces the freedom to use drones in whatever innovative ways it can and forcing Marines to adjust as needed. The service also said it would pair a laser weapon with its Stinger missile system to provide a more flexible and cost-effective way for ground vehicles to defend themselves against enemy UAVs of all sizes.
In late 2015 the Marine Corps awarded Amphibious Combat Vehicle 1.1 engineering and manufacturing development contracts to BAE Systems and SAIC, and General Dynamics protested the award shortly afterward. Service officials later said the protest delay had a “minimal” impact on the program schedule, but a similar protest on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program – where the Army and Marine Corps awarded Oshkosh Defense a low-rate initial production contract and Lockheed Martin protested – spiraled into a year-plus delay in achieving initial operational capability. As a result, Neller said the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request took some funding from the JLTV program, already delayed, and used it to protect the ACV and the Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar acquisition programs from cuts and therefore delays. BAE Systems delivered its first ACVs to the Marine Corps this fall, and government testing is set to begin in the spring.
The Navy released a new fleet plan that calls for 355 ships, outlining a massive increase in the size of its high-end large surface combatant and attack submarine fleets but a modest increase in its planned amphibious ship fleet, according to a Dec. 14 summary of the assessment.
The findings of the latest Force Structure Assessment adds 47 ships to the Navy’s battle force over the 308-ship figure from a 2014 FSA.
According to the summary, the service determined the 355 total was the “minimum force structure to comply with [Pentagon] strategic guidance” and was not “the “desired” force size the Navy would pursue if resources were not a constraint, read the summary.
“Rather, this is the level that balances an acceptable level of warfighting risk to our equipment and personnel against available resources and achieves a force size that can reasonably achieve success,” according to the summary, which notes it would take a 653-ship force to meet all global requirements with minimal risk.
The largest change to the 2014 totals are in the high-end ships classes of attack submarines, large surface combatants – like guided-missile cruisers and destroyers – and aircraft carriers. The new total adds 16 large surface combatants, 18 attack submarines and an additional carrier over the 2014 plan.
Since the roll out of the 2014 plan, both Russia and China have adopted a more expansionist stance and accelerated developments of high-end weapons systems – including supersonic anti-ship missiles and more sophisticated anti-submarine warfare platforms and networks. Service officials expressed increased concerns over the last two years and have told USNI News the force from the 2014 FSA would be insufficient to handle the developing threats.
There are also political implications for the new number and the timing of the release. The new total comes as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Defense Secretary Ash Carter have engaged in a public spat over the direction of the Navy’s shipbuilding program, and as the Trump administration prepares to take office and potentially begin moving towards its stated goal of building a 350-ship Navy.
Large Surface Combatants
The uptick in large guided-missile ships are to “deliver increased air defense and expeditionary [ballistic missile defense] capacity and provide escorts for the additional aircraft carrier,” reads the summary.
That total was based on filling a carrier strike group with five guided-missile combatants to perform anti-submarine warfare (ASW), protect the ship from surface and air threats and protect the CSG from ballistic missiles.
However, ongoing studies and wargaming conducted by the Navy’s surface warfare establishment concluded the number of ships to keep carrier safe should potentially be increased to seven or eight due to how rapidly the Chinese have increased their high-end capability.
What’s unclear from the summary is how the Navy will organize the large surface combatant total.
The Navy has struggled with finding both the money and time to modernize the Aegis Combat Systems in its legacy Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to configurations that can simultaneously fight traditional air warfare threats like cruise missiles and fighters as well as ballistic missile threats.
Additionally, it remains to be seen if the service will revise its cruiser modernization plan that sidelines some number of the ships, if the service will accelerate a new cruiser replacement program, and if it will accelerate production of the existing class of Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyers from the current two-a-year pace split between General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works and Huntington Ingalls’ Ingalls Shipbuilding.
The Navy now intends to build to a force of 66 attack submarines, up from about 50 SSNs today and stated requirement for 48, to “provide the global presence required to support national tasking and prompt warfighting response.”
A large increase in the attack submarine requirement was expected. Over the past year, the U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. European Command commanders have told Congress that they are only receiving about 60 percent of the SSN presence they request, in a time when Chinese and Russian submarine activity is increasing and anti-ship missile threats are both growing more sophisticated and proliferating. Attack subs may be the best naval tool for early battlefield shaping efforts, were the U.S. Navy to enter into a conflict, and the Navy has plans to make the current Virginia-class attack subs more lethal and stealthier through planned block upgrades.
Based on the combatant commanders’ testimony, it would take a fleet of at least 80 SSNs to fill all their requests, which would be unfeasible for the submarine shipbuilding industry – which consists of two yards, General Dynamics’ Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls’ Newport News Shipbuilding – given the start of construction activities for the new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine replacement program.
The Navy’s new FSA does not make any changes to the service’s requirement for nuclear weapon-carrying ballistic missile submarines. The Navy has 14 Ohio-class SSBNs today and intends to replace them with 12 Columbia-class boats that can provide the same level of presence.
USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) and guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106) transit the Pacific Ocean in late 2015. US Navy Photo
The new plan calls for adding one additional aircraft carrier to the Navy’s force structure, bringing the service total to 12.
A carrier strike group is among the most in demand assets from the U.S. combatant commanders for its imposing conventional deterrent and its ability for the U.S. to conduct strike operations almost anywhere in the world. The Navy today has 10 and will have 11 when the first-in-class Gerald R. Ford joins the fleet next year, though it will not begin overseas deployments until it finishes a couple years of post-delivery tests, shock trials and maintenance work.
The Navy’s 10-carrier fleet has struggled to balance maintenance needs and combatant commander demand. The Navy tried to move to a supply-based deployment model with its Optimized Fleet Response Plan but has still seen carrier deployments extended to avoid gaps in carrier presence in the Middle East and the Pacific. As a result, presence has varied wildly in the last couple years: over the summer the Navy had two carriers in the Mediterranean and two operating together in the Philippine Sea, and yet today only one carrier is in the Mediterranean and none underway in the Pacific.
An additional carrier could provide additional overseas presence, but it could also provide a buffer to ease pressure on the force, allowing ships sufficient time for maintenance and training.
Only one shipyard, Newport News Shipbuilding, builds aircraft carriers. The yard currently builds the carriers in five-year centers, though the shipyard and its supporting vendor base have argued it would be more efficient to deliver a carrier once every four years. For the Navy to increase its carrier fleet size, it would have to build the ships faster than they are set to decommission, and moving to four-year centers is the most likely way to do that.
A Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) transits to amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on Aug. 18, 2016. US Navy Photo
The new FSA calls for 38 amphibious ships, which is up from today’s requirement of 34 and today’s actual fleet of 31 ships, but not nearly as large an increase as many in the Navy and Marine Corps had hoped for.
The Navy and Marine Corps agreed several years ago that it would take 38 amphibious ships – and a particular balance of fixed-wing capable amphibious assault ships (LHDs and LHAs), sophisticated San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks (LPDs) and workhorse dock landing ships (LSDs) – to support a two-Marine Expeditionary Brigade forcible entry operation. They also agreed that despite the need for a two-MEB force, they could not afford 38 ships in the current budget environment, so they would aim for 34 as a budget-constrained figure.
Requirements for Marine Corps presence around the world has only increased since that agreement. The service has sent out land-based Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (SP-MAGTFs) to provide presence in Africa, the Middle East and South America. Without ships, though, these forces rely on their MV-22 Ospreys and KC-130J Super Hercules aircraft to move around – and importantly, they rely on the permission of other nations for basing and other support, rather than being self-supported from a U.S. warship at sea.
In addition to the SP-MAGTFs, the 3rd Marine Division in the Pacific is located forward in Japan but does not have any ships it can access regularly to for training, partnership-building with local Pacific partners or to respond to a contingency.
In total, the Marine Corps has said it would need upwards of 50 amphibious ships to provide the presence around the world it provides today but with proper amphib ship support.
Small Surface Combatants
The new total also restores the Navy’s old 2012 requirement of 52 smaller surface combatants, which will include the Littoral Combat Ship and frigate programs.
Last year – on Dec. 14, 2015 – Carter ordered the Navy to trim the LCS and frigate program to 40 ships from 52 and route the money into higher-end weapon systems.
Carter issued a terse directive that chided Mabus’ shipbuilding priorities and accused the department of promoting shipbuilding “at the expense of critically-needed investments in areas where our adversaries aren’t standing still… this has resulted in unacceptable reductions to the weapons, aircraft and other advanced capabilities that are necessary to defeat and deter advanced adversaries.”
Uniformed officials have continued to say at events and in congressional testimony that, though Carter may have curtailed the small surface combatant program at 40, the warfighting requirement remained at 52.
Since the 2015 memo, the LCS program has come under sustained scrutiny from Congress, and the both the Lockheed Martin Freedom-class and the Austal USA Independence-class variants have suffered high-profile engineering failures.
In September, the Navy rolled out a new plan that restructured the deployment of both classes of LCS, but given the continued criticism of the program it’s unclear what further changes may need to be made.
Also unclear, based on the restored 52-ship requirement, is whether the Navy will transition to the frigate with both or just one LCS hull design. The service originally intended to make frigate upgrades to both the Freedom-variant and Independence-variant designs, adding survivability and lethality and permanently installing both surface warfare and anti-ship warfare equipment rather than using interchangeable mission packages. Carter’s memo last year not only directed the Navy to stop at 40 LCSs and frigates but also instructed the service to downselect to a single vendor for the frigates. The Program Executive Office for LCS told USNI News recently that it crafted its latest request for proposals in a flexible way that would allow the office to buy a range of numbers of LCSs or frigates from either or both yards, depending on what the next administration directs it to do.
The FSA calls for the Navy growing its Combat Logistics Force by three ships, its Expeditionary Support Base (formerly called the Afloat Forward Staging Base) by three and its command and support ships by two.
The executive summary notes the combat logistics ships are needed to support an additional aircraft carrier and the larger fleet of large surface combatants, which require refueling and resupplying at sea. The increase in command and support ships reflects two additional surveillance ships.
The doubling of the ESB fleet comes as only one has joined the fleet but Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller has said the combatant commanders are already clamoring for more. The Navy converted an LPD set for decommissioning into an interim AFSB in 2012 to support mine countermeasures operations in the Persian Gulf. The resounding success of that deployment led the Navy to convert its Expeditionary Transfer Dock (formerly called the Mobile Landing Dock) design into an ESB that could support mine countermeasures operations, special operations forces and even Marine SP-MAGTF operations.
Neller said in February that the first ESB, USNS Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller (T-ESB-3), would deploy to the Middle East but that he wanted a ship like that in the Mediterranean Sea to support the Europe-based SP-MAGTF crisis response force that covers Africa.
“I would like very much for that ship to be based in the Med. Right now that’s not the plan, but we’re going to continue to work on that,” he said at a Brookings Institution event. “The COCOMs, both AFRICOM and EUCOM, have written a letter saying hey we’d like to have this capability in the Med to service West Africa and the Med because there’s stuff going on there that we need to be able to move around. You don’t want to be tied to a land base.”
The 3rd Marine Division in the Pacific has also expressed interest in an ESB if it couldn’t get access to amphibious warships, as an alternate means of being able to move its force around the Pacific. Adding three additional ESBs to the plan could help fill these requests for ESBs in the Pacific, Mediterranean and Gulf of Guinea areas.
Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus tour USS Makin Island (LHD-8) on Sept. 27, 2012. DoD Photo
The release of the new set of shipbuilding goals comes as Mabus and Carter are locked in a public fight over shipbuilding priorities.
Earlier this month, the Navy submitted its proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget that included $17 billion in additional spending in open defiance of guidance from Carter, as first reported by Defense News That money would buy surface ships Carter ordered trimmed as well as additional submarine, Defense News reported.
In a memo, Mabus chided Carter’s direction.
“The instruction your office conveyed directed cuts that would reduce the Navy’s and Marine Corps’ essential role as a forward-deployed and forward-stationed force to a fleet confined to home ports with infrequent overseas deployments,” Mabus wrote in the memo.
“In order to build some types of ships, I will not cut other ships, regardless of their function in the fleet. That is not how you maintain a Navy, one of our nation’s most precious assets.”
The timing of this FSA is unusual, since it typically follows the submission of the entire defense department budget to Congress every few years.
The release, almost two months ahead of the full budget release to Congress – and several months after the planned Summer 2016 rollout – is thought to be a move from Mabus to cement his shipbuilding legacy over Carter’s objections. It could also support the incoming Trump administration that has called for a battle force total of more than 350 ships.
“My budget submission will be the bridge to future budgets that reflects a new Force Structure Assessment and builds the Navy and Marine Corps the nation needs to maintain American influence, assure allies and partners and protect critical pathways of trade and commerce,” Mabus wrote in the December memo. “If you ultimately decide to submit a budget that takes away the ability of the Navy and Marine Corps to do their job, it will not have my support, and I will make my objections widely known.
The United States and its partners can improve regional security and stability in Eastern Europe by supporting the modernization and reform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine more aggressively.
Ukraine has suffered from consistent Russian military aggression since Russia occupied the Crimean Peninsula and militarily intervened in the eastern Ukrainian Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts in 2014. The overall unpreparedness of the Ukrainian military and its inability to match the capabilities of Russian forces allowed Russian and Russian proxy forces to gain a foothold in eastern Ukraine from which they continue to destabilize the entire country.
The Ukrainian armed forces have been partially restructured and strengthened in the face of this constant pressure, enough to stabilize the front lines for a time. They require significantly more support of all varieties, however, if they are to stop the advance of Russia and its proxies permanently, to say nothing of reversing the armed occupation of Ukrainian territory.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine continue to fight Russian troops and proxy forces operating in Ukraine in a war that has claimed approximately 10,000 lives. Ukraine has engaged in an ambitious military reform program to modernize its armed forces and meet standards required for NATO accession by 2020. These reform efforts have seen important successes in recent years, but the Ukrainian military remains vulnerable to conventional and unconventional warfare. U.S. General John Abizaid (former Commander of U.S. Central Command), U.K. General Nick Parker (former Commander of Britain’s Land Forces), and other western military leaders are in Ukraine to support the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s efforts to restructure itself and reform its forces.
The U.S., NATO, and individual western states can support these reform efforts and shape the Ukrainian military into a force capable of protecting Ukrainian sovereignty and becoming a key player in Eastern European security.The effectiveness of Ukraine’s land forces has increased due to ongoing reform efforts and two years of combat experience. These forces still suffer from a lack of modern equipment and from an incompletely reformed organizational structure. Ukrainian front-line soldiers have learned much from the protracted conflict and now outmatch separatist forces operating in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine has made progress in overcoming the low morale and poor discipline that confronted the Ukrainian Ground Forces Command in the early stages of the conflict. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that conscripts would no longer serve at the front line on November 2, for example. This step is critical in order to improve the effectiveness of Ukraine’s forces in the field and create a more professional army.
Ukrainian forces nevertheless lack experience in counter-insurgency operations, a lacuna which will become an increasingly exploitable vulnerability if they regain control of separatist territory in eastern Ukraine. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are in the midst of a transition from the Soviet structure on which they were based and remain inefficiently-organized. This cumbersome, inefficient, and brittle organization left Ukrainian front line units vulnerable to the rapid advance of Russian and Russian proxy forces throughout the conflict, leading to multiple serious defeats.
Ukrainian front-line troops also lack standardized modern weaponry. Ukraine’s defense sector remains highly productive, but the Armed Forces of Ukraine does not have the modern weaponry necessary to allow them to counter Russian military intervention. Russian and pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine continue to use heavy armor and electronic-warfare systems that Ukraine has struggled to counter, leading to some of their most serious defeats in the conflict.
Ukrainian forces remain highly vulnerable to conventional military forces as long as they lack the means to counter massed heavy armored formations. Ukrainian Ground Forces will be unable to provide a true deterrent to offensive action by regional aggressors until these problems are addressed.
The Ukrainian Air Force plays a key role in protecting Ukrainian sovereignty but faces capability gaps that undermine its ability to support Ukrainian ground forces in combat or consistently assert sovereignty over Ukrainian airspace. At the outset of the conflict in 2014, the underfunded Ukrainian Air Force used Soviet equipment and was not prepared for major combat operations. It nevertheless played a decisive role in supporting Ukrainian ground forces in early stages of the conflict.
The years of neglect took their toll, and Ukraine’s air forces suffered heavy losses during the initial four months of intensive air operations, losing 18 aircraft and helicopters, mostly to man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) and heavier anti-aircraft installations. Ukraine ceded its right to conduct air operations in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine on September 19, 2014 in an effort to deescalate the conflict, and the Ukrainian Air Force has not operated against hostile targets since. The Ukrainian Air Force’s high vulnerability to even limited deployments of Russian anti-air systems raises serious concerns about its ability to fight against a conventional combined arms force. Ukraine and its western partners should prioritize supporting the refurbishment of the Ukrainian Air Force in order to allow the Ukrainian Air Force to operate in its own airspace.
The Ukrainian Navy was nearly destroyed by the Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula and has struggled to reform itself in order to be a force capable of asserting Ukrainian sovereignty. Multiple high-profile defections during the initial stages of the Russian occupation of Crimea weakened the leadership of the Ukrainian navy, which proceeded to lose at least 51 ships, the majority of which were captured by Russia. The current flagship of the Ukrainian Navy, the frigate Hetman Sahaydachniy, along with several patrol boats and cutters, are the only combat-ready vessels available to the Armed Forces of Ukraine as of September 2016.
Ukraine’s loss of its primary naval facilities in Crimea remains the largest hurdle to the reconstitution of the Ukrainian Navy. Ukrainian Minister of Defense Stepan Poltorak reported on June 28, 2016 that Ukraine had allocated $100 million to construct a new naval base in Odessa to serve as the headquarters for the Ukrainian Navy as well as plans to repair and modernize Ukraine’s remaining vessels. Even when this expansion has been completed and these reforms implemented, Ukraine’s navy would likely face extreme difficulty protecting its key port cities of Odessa and Mariupol against the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
The Ukrainian Navy is currently the weakest navy in the Black Sea region. It is weaker than the Russian Black Sea Fleet as well as the navies of NATO members Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria, though is slightly stronger than the Georgian Coast Guard. It is, and likely will remain in coming years, incapable of asserting Ukrainian sovereignty around the occupied Crimean peninsula or over Ukrainian resource rights on the Black Sea should Russian forces in the region seek to prevent it from doing so. The U.S. has pledged $500 million to support the reformation of the Ukrainian Navy, $30 million of which was delivered in 2016.The reconstruction of the Ukrainian Navy will take time, particularly so long as Ukraine is denied access to its bases in Crimea, and will require continued focus from both Ukraine and its partners if the Ukrainian Navy is to be able to defend Ukraine’s coast and waters.
Ukrainian Special Forces play a key role in countering conventional and unconventional threats to Ukrainian sovereignty, and the effort to reform them has had great success. Much of Russia’s aggressive action in Crimea, Donbas, and elsewhere in Ukraine relied on small groups of special operators or light infantry who infiltrated Ukrainian territory, caused chaos, seized key terrain, and thereby undermined the morale and effectiveness of Ukrainian units ahead of the main body of pro-Russia forces. Ukrainian forces’ initial inability to counter this type of warfare demonstrated the need for a highly-motivated, well-trained special operations force to counter Russian infiltration, reconnaissance, and sabotage teams.Ukraine has therefore prioritized reforming the structure and practices of its special operations forces with support from U.S. and NATO. These reforms, intended to streamline the command structure of Ukrainian special operations units, will play a critical role in Ukrainian efforts to create armed forces capable of protecting Ukrainian sovereignty. President Poroshenko signed a law on July 26, 2016 officially establishing the separate Special Operations Command in the Ukrainian armed forces. Poroshenko noted that “in 2014 special operations forces had nothing except morale” and praised the necessary efforts to reform Ukraine’s special operations capabilities. Ukraine’s Special Operations Command is still nascent, however, and Ukrainian special operations forces have yet to become a fully mature force.
Ukraine has prioritized obtaining NATO assistance in reforming and retraining its armed forces since 2014. Ukraine and NATO’s partnership has existed since Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and improved significantly in recent years. Ukraine expanded its efforts to train with NATO in order to support its armed forces’ initiatives to improve their overall readiness, modernize their training and tactics, support structural reform, and improve interoperability with NATO forces. These ongoing efforts included expanded participation in large-scale NATO exercises, such as Agile Spirit 2015 in Georgia, Sea Breeze 2016 in the Black Sea, Flaming Thunder 2016 in Lithuania and Rapid Trident 2016 in Ukraine. These exercises allow members of Ukraine’s armed services to share best practices across disciplines with their counterparts in NATO. These exercises also give Ukrainian soldiers and officers the opportunity to become more accustomed to Western military practices, on which they are basing many of their reforms. The Armed Forces of Ukraine have shown a strong desire to expand interoperability with western military structures and improve military relationships with NATO in order to counter and deter further Russian aggression.
Ukraine has also made efforts to develop military relationships with individual NATO member states in order to expand its network of partners who support ongoing reform efforts. Since 2014, Ukraine has conducted exercises with many western countries including Poland, Canada, Estonia, Lithuania, Turkey, and the UK. Ukrainian forces joined a joint Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian brigade in September 2014 and have since proposed a joint military brigade with Bulgaria and Romania. These multilateral partnerships, combined with ongoing NATO efforts to improve the logistics and standardization of the Ukrainian armed forces, constitute a concerted investment in Ukrainian security by both NATO and Ukraine. The continuation and expansion of these efforts will build on the progress Ukraine has made in reforming its armed forces while using this momentum to further integrate into NATO and Ukraine’s efforts to maintain its sovereignty and counter Russian aggression.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine have made significant strides towards their objective of reforming into a modern military force by 2020, but they continue to face major challenges. As U.S. and Western policymakers consider the most effective path forward for European security, they should focus on supporting the ongoing reformation of the Ukrainian armed forces into a fully professional and modern force that can help maintain stability in Eastern Europe. Ukraine’s partners in the West should prioritize supporting Ukraine’s efforts to complete systemic structural reforms, modernize their military hardware, and rebuild its navy. These efforts will allow Ukraine to defend its sovereignty against regional aggressors and play a greater role in contributing to the security of Europe and the Black Sea Region.