Iranian Revolutionary Guard unveils its 1st ‘suicide’ drone

Iran’s ‘suicide’ drone
Iran’s ‘suicide’ drone

On Wednesday, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard unveiled a drone that was built for combat targets and to execute suicide missions. The Iranians have reported that the tiny aircraft can fly a distance of 1,000 km for four straight hours. 

According to reports out of Iran, the “suicide” drone is equipped with advanced military-grade cameras that enable day-time and night-time espionage missions. It should be able to fly from a height of half a meter to 914 meters, allowing the drone to hit any target on land or at sea.

Furthermore, the Iranian drone can fly at a maximum speed of 250 km per hour and is also able to land on water. Although missiles cannot be loaded onto the drone, it can be filled with a large amount of explosives in order to carry out suicide missions.

Clinton says US could ‘ring China with missile defense’

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012

Hillary Clinton privately said the U.S. would “ring China with missile defense” if the Chinese government failed to curb North Korea’s nuclear program, a potential hint at how the former secretary of state would act if elected president.

Clinton’s remarks were revealed by WikiLeaks in a hack of the Clinton campaign chairman’s personal account. The emails include a document excerpting Clinton’s private speech transcripts, which she has refused to release.

A section on China features several issues in which Clinton said she confronted the Chinese while leading the U.S. State Department.

us-china-flags-2China has harshly criticized the U.S. and South Korea’s planned deployment of a missile-defense system against North Korea, which conducted its fifth nuclear test this year. But Clinton said she told Chinese officials that the U.S. might deploy additional ships to the region to contain the North Korean missile threat.

If North Korea successfully obtains a ballistic missile, it could threaten not just American allies in the Pacific, “but they could actually reach Hawaii and the west coast theoretically,” Clinton said.

“We’re going to ring China with missile defense. We’re going to put more of our fleet in the area,” Clinton said in a 2013 speech. “So China, come on. You either control them or we’re going to have to defend against them.”

China is North Korea’s economic lifeline and the closest thing it has to a diplomatic ally, and has been criticized by the U.S. and others for not doing enough to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. Chinese officials and state media have responded by saying North Korea is not solely China’s responsibility and say Beijing has limited influence with secretive leader Kim Jong Un’s hardline communist regime

Clinton also privately criticized China’s position on another sensitive issue, the South China Sea. China claims almost the entirety of the strategically vital waterbody has lashed out at an international tribunal’s rejection of its claims in a July ruling.

By China’s logic, Clinton told a different audience in 2013, the U.S. after World War II could have labeled the Pacific Ocean the “American Sea.”

“My counterpart sat up very straight and goes, ‘Well, you can’t do that,'” she said. “And I said, ‘Well, we have as much right to claim that as you do. I mean, you claim (the South China Sea) based on pottery shards from, you know, some fishing vessel that ran aground in an atoll somewhere.”

In another remark revealed in the Wikileaks hack, Clinton called Xi “a more sophisticated, more effective public leader” than his predecessor, Hu Jintao. She noted Xi’s plans for economic and social reforms, but blamed what she called “a resurgence of nationalism” on the Chinese government.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond Friday to faxed questions about Clinton’s remarks.

As secretary of state, Clinton visited China seven times and engineered Washington’s “pivot” to Asia, which has long been viewed with suspicion by Beijing. The policy shift has seen a tighter focus on the region along with an increased military presence and fortified alliances with allies such as Australia and the Philippines, although the latter has been cast in doubt with the election of China-friendly President Rodrigo Duterte.

She also drew condemnation from Chinese state media last year after describing Xi as “shameless” as he prepared to speak on women’s rights at the United Nations, shortly after China detained five young feminists who’d campaigned against domestic violence.

Russia has its permanent air base in Syria. Now it’s looking at Cuba and Vietnam.

russia-and-syriaRussia ratified a treaty with Syria on Friday that gives Moscow its first permanent air base in the Middle East, a symbol of the Kremlin’s desire to project strength overseas, as Russian officials considered renewing other Soviet-era bases in Cuba and Vietnam.

Friday’s developments were largely symbolic: With the onslaught of Russian airstrikes in Syria, Moscow has left no doubt about its commitment to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov told lawmakers Friday that the ministry is considering the possibility of establishing footholds far away from Russia’s borders, but there’s no clear evidence that Cuba or Vietnam would be open to the return of the Russian military.

But it’s clear that Moscow is acting on bringing to life President Vladimir Putin’s vision of Russia as a global military power at a time when tensions between Moscow and Washington are as high as they’ve been since the Cold War.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry called Friday for the Syrian and Russian governments to face a war-crimes investigation over attacks on civilians in Syria. Moscow has rejected accusations that its airstrikes are targeting civilians and insists that its goal in Syria is to assist Assad in the fight against terrorism.

kommersant-newspaperRussia warned Thursday that its advanced air defenses in Syria would be ready to fight off a U.S. strike against the Syrian army, and the newspaper Kommersant quoted a military source Friday as saying Russian forces have authorization to “shoot to kill”  if they come under attack.

The broad, open-ended agreement ratified by the Russian parliament Friday allows the Kremlin to indefinitely maintain a military deployment in Syria “aimed at maintaining peace and stability in the region.” The contract can be terminated by Russia or Syria with one year’s notice and went into effect Aug. 26, 2015, the day it was signed.

Putin submitted it to the Russian parliament for ratification in August of this year, and the government has not given an official reason for the delay. The Russia-Syria treaty was unexpectedly published on the government’s clearinghouse for official documents in January, allowing our colleague Michael Birnbaum to translate and break down the agreement.

“Russian military personnel and shipments can pass in and out of Syria at will and aren’t subject to controls by Syrian authorities,” the document says. “Syrians can’t enter Russian bases without Russia’s permission. And Russia disclaims any responsibility for damage caused by its activities inside Syria.”

Additionally, according to the agreement, Russia receives use of the Khmeimim aviation base with no fee and does not have to pay taxes in Syria.

Kommersant reported Friday that military officials are considering deploying Su-25 ground-attack aircraft at Khmeimim that Putin ordered out of Syria in March, saying that the Russian military had fulfilled its mission. The newspaper, quoting a “high-ranking military source,” said that two guided-missile ships would join the Russian naval task force in the Mediterranean Sea, to be bolstered later also

by a strike force led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which that will set off for Syria later this month.

Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier

With the Russian military presence in Syria formalized, a lawmaker asked a senior defense official about the bases in Vietnam and Cuba, closed in the early 2000s.

Nikolai Pankov
Nikolai Pankov

Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov said the military is “reviewing” the decision to close the Lourdes signals intelligence base in Cuba and the deepwater Cam Ranh naval base in Vietnam, but did not offer specifics, according to Russian news agencies. “As for our presence on faraway outposts, we are working on this,” Pankov said.

In 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to pull back from Cuba and Vietnam as he sought to bolster ties with the United States. The U.S.-Russian relations now have plunged to the lowest point since the Cold War times amid strain over Syria and Ukraine.

Putin has openly criticized the United States for failing to reciprocate on Russia’s drawdown of its Soviet-era military reach. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its entry into the war in Syria have underscored Moscow’s newly assertive foreign policy.

Lourdes Signals Intelligence Base.jpg
Lourdes Signals Intelligence Base
Cam Ranh Bay
Cam Ranh Bay

Asked Friday about the possibility of the Russian military’s return to Cuba and Vietnam, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from specific comment, but added that the global situation requires various players to mull possible responses.

“Naturally, all countries assess those changes from the point of view of their national interests and take steps they consider necessary,” he told reporters.

When Putin ordered the military withdrawal from Cuba and Vietnam, Russia was still reeling from its post-Soviet economic meltdown. Putin cited the need to cut costs when he explained reasons behind his move to the military.

Windfall oil revenues in recent years have filled the government’s coffers with petrodollars, allowing the Kremlin to fund an ambitions weapons modernization program and turn the military into a more mobile modern force.

Amid the deterioration of ties with the West, the military began pondering plans to re-establish its global presence. A small naval supply facility in the Syrian port of Tartus is now the navy’s only outpost outside the former Soviet Union.

Oleg Manuilov
Oleg Manuilov

Oleg Nilov of A Just Russia, one of the factions in the Kremlin-controlled lower house, pointed at the U.S. and its NATO allies’ deployment near Russian borders as he argued that Russia needs to regain its Soviet-era bases

“It’s time to reach agreements to return to faraway outposts if they don’t understand the language of diplomacy,” he said during debates.

US Considering Air Strikes On Assad Regime After Top General Warns It Could Lead To War With Russia

us-vs-russia-2Now that the gloves have come off in the faux diplomacy between Russia and the US, which culminated with Putin halting a Plutonium cleanup effort with the US, shortly before the US State Department announced it would end negotiations with Russia over Syria, the next step may be one which John Kerry warned last week is “back on the table“, namely the launch of military strikes on the Assad regime.

As Reuters hinted last week, at a Deputies Committee meeting at the White House, officials from the State Department, the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed limited military strikes against the regime as a “means of forcing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to pay a cost for his violations of the cease-fire, disrupt his ability to continue committing war crimes against civilians in Aleppo, and raise the pressure on the regime to come back to the negotiating table in a serious way.” Or, in other words, to cut to the chase and go right back to what the US was hoping to achieve in Syria in the first place: another regime change.

Among the options considered include bombing Syrian air force runways using cruise missiles and other long-range weapons fired from coalition planes and ships. One proposed way to get around the White House’s long-standing objection to striking the Assad regime without a U.N. Security Council resolution would be to carry out the strikes covertly and without public acknowledgment, the official said. In other words, the warhawks in the administration are actively contemplating not only bypassing the White House, but flaunting the UN and launching a sovereign incursions, also known as a war, against Syria.

The CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, represented in the Deputies Committee meeting by Vice Chairman Gen. Paul Selva, expressed support for such “kinetic” options, the official said. That marked an increase of support for striking Assad compared with the last time such options were considered.

“There’s an increased mood in support of kinetic actions against the regime,” one senior administration official said. “The CIA and the Joint Staff have said that the fall of Aleppo would undermine America’s counterterrorism goals in Syria.”

The good news is that, at least for now, not everyone involved in the discussion is a hawkish neocon. According to WaPo there’s still skepticism that the White House will approve military action. Other administration officials told The Post this week that Obama is no more willing to commit U.S. military force inside Syria than he was previously and that each of the military options being discussed have negative risks or consequences.

There is another problem: launching bombing raids over Syria would necessarily require the creation of a “no fly zone” for Syrian and, more importantly, Russian warplanes.  However, during testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services last week General Joseph Dunford rang the alarm over a policy shift that is gaining more traction within the halls of Washington following the collapse of the ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia in Syria saying that it could result in a major international war which he was not prepared to advocate on behalf of.

The notable exchange took place after Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi asked about Hillary Clinton’s proposal for a no fly zone in Syria in response to allegations that Russia and Syria have intensified their aerial bombardment of rebel-held East Aleppo since the collapse of the ceasefire.

“What about the option of controlling the airspace so that barrel bombs cannot be dropped? What do you think of that option?” asked Wicker. “Right now, Senator, for us to control all of the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia. That is a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make,” said the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggesting the policy was too hawkish even for military leaders.

Since the report is, at least for now, just a trial balloon to gauge the Russian reaction to a potential US military incursion, we now wait to see what Putin’s reaction to the possibility of a US military campaign in Syria will be.

Russia Strongly Warns U.S. Against Striking Syrian Army

civil_war_in_syriaThe Russian military on Thursday strongly warned the United States against striking the Syrian army, noting that its air defense weapons in Syria stand ready to fend off any attack.

The statement underlined high tensions between Moscow and Washington after the collapse of a U.S.-Russia-brokered Syria truce and the Syrian army’s offensive on Aleppo backed by Russian warplanes.

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov
Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said any U.S. strikes on areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government could jeopardize the lives of Russian servicemen.

He said Moscow was worried by media reports alleging that Washington was pondering the possibility of striking Syrian army positions.

“I would recommend our colleagues in Washington to carefully weigh possible consequences of the fulfillment of such plans,” Konashenkov said.

Russia responded with dismay to the U.S.-led coalition’s air raid on Syrian army positions near Deir el-Zour that killed 60 Syrian soldiers on Sept. 17, rejecting the U.S. explanation that the attack was a mistake.

Konashenkov said “we have taken all the necessary measures to prevent any such ‘mistakes’ with regard to Russian servicemen and military facilities in Syria.”

He said the range of Russia’s S-300 and S-400 air defense missile systems deployed to Syria would be a “surprise” to any country operating its aircraft over the country. Konashenkov added that the Syrian army also has various Soviet- and Russian-built air defense missile systems, which have undergone modernization over the past year.

Since Russia has launched its air campaign in Syria in support of Assad’s forces a year ago, the Russia and the U.S. militaries have maintained contacts to prevent any midair incidents between Russian warplanes and the aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition in the skies over Syria.

Konashenkov warned, however, that the Russian military won’t have time to use the hotline if it sees missiles on their way to targets in Syria.

us-vs-russia-1“It must be understood that Russian air defense missile crews will unlikely have time to clarify via the hotline the exact flight program of the missiles or the ownership of their carriers,” he added.

In an apparent hint at the U.S. stealth aircraft, he added that any “dilettante illusions about stealth planes could collide with disappointing realities.”

The Russian military announced Tuesday that a battery of the S-300 air defense missile systems had been sent to Syria to protect a Russian facility in the Syrian port of Tartus and Russian navy ships off the Mediterranean coast.

Tartus is the only naval supply facility Russia has outside the former Soviet Union.

The deployment has added more punch to the Russian military force in Syria, which already includes long-range S-400 missile defense systems and an array of other surface-to-air missiles at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia.

Russia has conducted an air campaign in support of Assad since Sept. 30, 2015, saving his army from imminent defeat and helping it win key ground

Marine Gunships Enter the Fight Against the Islamic State in Libya

U.S. Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra
U.S. Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra

After nearly a month of airstrikes against the Islamic State fighters dug in around the Libyan city of Sirte, U.S. helicopter gunships have been dispatched to help root out the extremist group from some of the denser parts of the city.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations, said Marine AH-1W SuperCobra helicopters participated in strikes against the Islamic State over the weekend. According to a U.S. Africa Command release, U.S. forces conducted nine strikes from Friday to Sunday, targeting Islamic State fighting positions and vehicles.

The Islamic State fighters have retreated “to the densest, most built-up part of the city,” the official said. “[The AH-1] is a platform that lends itself well to that kind of mission.”

Helicopter gunships are usually best directed to their targets when they receive directions from combat air controllers on the ground, known as JTACs. While the United States has a small detachment of Special Operations forces in Sirte, most of the targeting information for the airstrikes there is being relayed to U.S. forces through Libyan government troops.

Outfitted with a 20mm cannon, rockets and missiles, the AH-1W SuperCobra is one of the newer variants of a helicopter that first saw combat in the later years of the Vietnam War. Currently, the United States Marine Corps operates the AH-1W SuperCobra and AH-1Z Viper as its premier gunships when it comes to supporting Marines on the ground. The Cobra and Viper often fly in what is called a mixed section, meaning the gunship usually flies along with UH-1 Huey, a transport helicopter outfitted with sensors and armed with heavy machine guns and rockets.

Sirte, LibyaUntil recently, the airstrikes in Sirte have been carried out by fixed-wing aircraft, such as the AV-8B Harrier ground attack jets. Helicopter gunships, such as the Cobra, fly low and slow and are able to attack targets more directly and systematically than, say, a jet that releases a bomb while screeching overhead at hundreds of miles an hour. Yet gunships, flying at low altitude and low speed, are more at risk of getting shot down by ground fire and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, or MANPADS. The man-portable launchers have been widely proliferated throughout Libya and the region after large stocks of the devices were looted from government stores after the collapse of Moammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011.

Since Aug. 1, the United States has been striking targets in Sirte primarily from the USS Wasp, an aging amphibious assault ship stationed off the Libyan coast. About 200 feet shorter than a full-fledged Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier, the Wasp can support a complement aircraft, including Harriers, MV-22 Ospreys, Cobra gunships and Huey transport helicopters.

Military Court Claims Power To Decide “Importance” of Religion

Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling
Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling

In a stunning ruling that likely will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, a military court has decided it can determine whether or not a certain religious practice is “important” enough to be protected.

“This is absolutely outrageous,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, after the decision in the case against a Marine who posted a Bible verse at her work station.

“A few judges decided they could strip a Marine of her constitutional rights just because they didn’t think her beliefs were important enough to be protected,” he said. “If they can court-martial a Marine over a Bible verse, what’s to stop them from punishing service members for reading the Bible, talking about their faith, or praying?”

At the end of 2015, when a lower military court delivered the judgment against Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling, who, at three places in her work space, posted a phrase from Isaiah 54:17, “No weapons formed against me shall prosper.”

According to the brief, her supervisor said, “I don’t like the tone” and told her to remove the verses.

“When Sterling declined, her supervisor took them down at the end of the duty day. Sterling reprinted and re-posted the messages, but she found them in the trash the next morning. She was then court-martialed,” according to the complaint.

“No one in our military who goes to work every day to defend our freedoms should then be court-martialed for exercising those very freedoms,” said Daniel Briggs, a former Air Force JAG officer now with the Alliance Defending Freedom, at the time.

“This case is about Monifa, but it is also about every American who puts on the uniform in service to this country. The question is whether they will be allowed to exercise their faith in the military, or whether they will be denied the same constitutionally protected freedoms they have volunteered to defend and are willing to die for.”

The latest development, was an affirmation by the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces’ punishment of Sterling.

The next step will be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, her legal team said.

“This is a real-life example of why judges shouldn’t play theologians,” said Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel of the Becket Fund, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Sterling.

“Here, a few judges concluded that keeping scripture nearby isn’t ‘important,’ even though more than half of the world’s population belong to religions that teach the exact opposite. Avoiding obvious errors like this is why RFRA protects all religious beliefs, not just beliefs that government officials deem ‘important.’”

The organization pointed out that Sterling’s co-workers were permitted to keep nonreligious messages on their desks. And it argued her actions were protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

One judge on the military panel disagreed with the punishment, noting that federal law “does not empower judges to curtail various manifestations of sincere religious belief simply by arbitrarily deciding that a certain act was not ‘important’ to the believer’s exercise of religion.”

The Becket Fund’s brief was on behalf of religious faiths, including Anglican, Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran, Mormon, Muslim, Presbyterian, Sikh and Southern Baptist.