‘Furious’ U.S. admiral sent Navy destroyer to Black Sea after Russian warship fired on Ukrainian vessel

A U.S. Navy destroyer has been dispatched to the Black Sea for naval exercises with Ukrainian warships in a show of “solidarity” following an exchange of fire with a Russian ship that infuriated an admiral.

“The whole episode in the Sea of Azov was extremely bothersome to me,” said Navy Adm. James Foggo, commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe and Africa, in an interview with reporters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference last weekend.

Reports noted that Russian ships opened fire on three Ukrainian navy vessels as they tried to transit the Kerch Strait, which is a narrow waterway connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. The Russians also arrested Ukrainian sailors after the incident last November.

It was the first public act of hostility by Russian forces against the Ukrainians since 2014 when “little green men” — disguised Russian troops — invaded Crimea and annexed the enclave for Moscow. Russia has used its control of land on both sides of the waterway to cut off access to a number of vital Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov, the Washington Examiner reported.

“We’re showing solidarity,” Foggo said, referencing the deployment of the USS Donald Cook (above) to the region from its homeport at Naval Station Rota, Spain.

Moscow says the three Ukrainian vessels were captured as they attempted to force their way through the strait in an unsafe manner.

“They were apprehended — even though some people have illusions about Crimea — they were apprehended at the place which was Russian territorial waters even before the referendum,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday during the security conference, referencing the vote that Russia claims is underlying the basis for its claim to sovereignty over the Crimean side of the strait.

But that’s a false statement, U.S. officials and NATO member states noted. They say that the Ukrainian ships were taken in the Black Sea, on the international side of the Kerch Strait, making Moscow’s action illegal under international maritime law.

Foggo openly condemned the Russian action and jailing of 24 Ukrainian sailors on charges they illegally crossed a Russian border.

“Let me tell you, that irritates me to no end,” Foggo told reporters.

“They are uniformed Ukrainian sailors and officers and chiefs. They’re not criminals, and they are being charged under a criminal code,” he added.

“They should be protected under the Geneva Convention, which is why the United States and other NATO allies have come to the table and said ‘Release them immediately,’ and they still continue to hold them. That is just absolutely wrong, and it is not the kind of behavior that you would expect from a major power — which Russia wants to be.”

Foggo noted that Russian vessels track U.S. and NATO warships in the Black Sea region but they aren’t a match for American firepower.

“Let’s face it, the Russian carrier Kuznetsov doesn’t even come close to the Ford-class carrier or the Nimitz class carrier, and the surface navy is not an equivalent match for either the United States Navy or [other] NATO navies in the world,” Foggo said.


Russia to complete S-400 deliveries to Turkey by end of 2019, in defiance of U.S.: Report

Russia plans to complete its shipment of sophisticated S-400 anti-air, anti-missile systems to Turkey by the end of this year, according to Tass, which quoted CEO of Russia’s hi-tech corporation Rostec Sergei Chemezov at the 14th IDEX-2019 international defense show on Monday.

“We have signed the contract and we will complete the deliveries by the end of this year. We will deliver all the systems this year,” he said, according to the newswire.

The news comes as the United States continues to oppose the sale, even going so far as to warn Turkey — a NATO member — that going through with the purchase would have negative long-term consequences.

On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence, speaking to attendees at the Munich Security Conference, said the Trump administration “will not stand by idly while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries.

“We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East,” he added.

The Trump administration established a Feb. 15 deadline for Ankara to indicate its intention to stop the sale, according to a U.S. military official who spoke to Military Times. If Turkey refuses to do so, a forthcoming sale of the U.S.-made Patriot missile defense system would be stopped.

“We have been clear with Turkey,” the U.S. official said. “The will not receive the Patriot if they purchase the S-400.”

If the Tass report is accurate, however, it appears as though Turkey is planning to go ahead with the purchase of S-400 systems.

“Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar earlier said that the deployment of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems would begin in October 2019,” Tass reported.

The S-400 reportedly has a range of about 250 miles and can strike targets up to 18.5 miles high.

The U.S. is concerned if it goes ahead with the Patriot missile sale that Turkey will allow PAC-3 technology to be accessed by Russian officials.

Pence: U.S. ‘will not stand idly by’ while Turkey buys Russian S-400 systems

Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday repeated earlier warnings that the United States would not look at all favorably on Turkey’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 air- and missile-defense systems a day after Ankara blew off the first of two deadlines to end the deal.

Speaking to attendees at the Munich Security Conference, the VP said the Trump administration “will not stand by idly while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries.

“We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East,” he added.

Pence’s comments come after Germany continues moving ahead with plans earlier this month to build the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia that the U.S. also opposes.

As for the S-400, Washington had established a Feb. 15 deadline for Ankara to indicate its intention to stop the sale, according to a U.S. military official who spoke to Military Times. If Turkey refuses to do so, a forthcoming sale of the U.S.-made Patriot missile defense system would be stopped.

“We have been clear with Turkey,” the U.S. official said. “The will not receive the Patriot if they purchase the S-400.”

The Patriot sale, valued at about $3.5 billion, covers the purchase of 80 Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced and 60 PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles and associated gear.

In addition to ratcheting up tensions with the U.S. and NATO, to which Turkey is a long-standing member, the purchase of the S-400 would also likely endanger Ankara’s participation in the international development of the F-35, the fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter program.

Turkey sources some parts for the fighter and its development could be hampered if the U.S. ditches Turkey as a partner.

As for the Nord Stream pipeline, some U.S. analysts believe that Germany is seeking to diversify its natural gas supplies and that it intends to also purchase U.S.-produced LNG at some point.

President Trump has criticized Germany’s partnership with Russia on the project, saying the deal makes it ludicrous for Washington to continue spending so much money on helping Germany itself and Europe against Moscow, which remains an adversary.

Still, as Reuters reports, Germany will consider changes laws governing the Nord Stream 2 in order to ensure that it complies with new European Union regulations, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told Reuters on Friday.

“My assumption is that it can be built under the new conditions,” he said. “But there will clearly be some changes. One regarding the ownership of the pipeline, since European law requires ownership of pipeline and production to be separated.”

Russian defense head says military must develop game-changing ground-based cruise, hypersonic missiles by 2020

The head of Russia’s armed forces said Tuesday that it was imperative the country’s military develop ground-based cruise and hypersonic missiles by 2020 to counter rising threats from the U.S. and the West.

In particular, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said during a conference call, the military will be looking at developing a ground-based version of the sea-launched Kalibr missile within the next two years, a requirement ahead of creating a longer-range hypersonic missile system.

“The General Staff has submitted to the supreme commander-in-chief a list of measures, which he has approved. In 2019-2020, we need to develop the ground-based version of the sea-launched Kalibr system with the long-range cruise missile, which has proven its worth in Syria,” Shoigu said, according to TASS.

“Within the same time limits, we need to develop the ground-based system with the long-range hypersonic missile,” he added.

The development comes in response to the Trump administration’s decision to suspend the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty after the administration determined Russia has been cheating for years by developing missile systems with ranges that violate its terms, which Moscow has denied repeatedly.

“At the same time, they [the United States] are actively working on creating ground-based missiles with the range capability of over 500km (310 miles), which is outside the treaty-stipulated limitations. In this situation, the Russian president has set the task for the Defense Ministry to take tit-for-tat mirrored measures,” Shoigu said.

The defense minister noted further that “the use of sea-and air-borne missiles in their ground-based version will help considerably cut the time of manufacturing new missile weapons and the volume of their financing.”

“Besides, it is necessary to increase the firing range of ground-based missile systems being developed today,” he added.

Shoigu ordered Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko “to start the corresponding experimental design work within a short period of time within the appropriations allocated under the defense procurement plan for 2019 and for the planned period of 2020-2021 by re-distributing funds for the fulfillment of this work.”

Meanwhile, in a separate report by TASS, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that U.S. deployments of anti-missile systems in Japan was also a violation of the INF Treaty.

As for the INF Treaty and the Kuril Islands, there is a certain link here, since the placement of the US global missile shield launchers on Japan’s soil is among the problems that exist in our relationship with our Japanese neighbors in the sphere of security,” Lavrov told an audience in a speech at the Russian-Tajik Slavic University.

“These launchers are similar to the systems that have already been deployed by the Americans in Romania and will be deployed in Poland, the so-called Mk-41 launcher,” Lavrov said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin alluded to the development of a hypersonic missile during a State of the State address about a year ago.

Since then, the Russian military has conducted successful tests of a hypersonic system including one in December, which could be ready for deployment by 2022.

The latest test of the device, which is known as dubbed “Tsirkon,” was conducted Dec. 10. The device achieved a top speed of Mach 8, or eight times the speed of sound — two miles per second.

“What we are seeing with this particular weapon is that the Russians designed it to have a dual-purpose capability, meaning, it can be used against a target on land as well as a vessel at sea,” one source told CNBC. “Last week’s successful test showed that the Russians were able to achieve sustained flight, a feat that is crucial in the development of hypersonic weapons.”

The U.S. and China are also developing hypersonic missiles, considered game changers by defense experts, though the United States is playing catch-up.

U.S. defense officials have said that no American anti-missile system is currently capable of interdicting a hypersonic missile. But that would also mean that, should the U.S. develop and field a successful hypersonic missile, adversaries likely would also not have the ability to defend against it.

That said, The National Interest reported that the U.S. is already working on hypersonic missile defense — using hypersonics.

“Proposers may also assume a range of velocities above Mach 5 and a range of altitudes up to 50 kilometers [31 miles]. Solutions could have applicability to small interceptors, such as projectiles shorter than one meter [3.2 feet or larger interceptors, such as missiles over 5 meters [16.4 feet] long,” says a research proposal published by the Missile Defense Agency.

New images surface of massive Russian stealth drone ‘Hunter’

Last summer, the world got its first glimpses of a massive, 20-ton stealth drone fighter being developed by Russia when defense industry sources passed them along to the Russian state-owned news outlet TASS.

Though the aircraft (shown above) “has not yet taken full shape, its main features are already known,” a defense official told the newswire.

Since TASS is completely run by the Kremlin, it’s safe to say that the images were ‘leaked’ on purpose.

The defense official noted further:

“First of all, it should be unmanned and capable of performing any combat task in an autonomous regime. In this sense, the stealth drone will become the prototype of the sixth generation fighter jet,’ the source said, adding that the drone will be able to “take off, fulfill its objectives and return to the airfield.”

“However, it will not receive the function of decision-making regarding the use of weapons – this will be decided by a human,” he said.

Now, as LiveJournal now reports, brand-new images of the first prototype of this sixth-gen unmanned reconnaissance-strike drone, nicknamed “Hunter,” have been taken at the airdrome of the Novosibirsk Aviation Plant.

Reports note that designers have been putting the model through testing at the plant since November 2018. Prototype flights have been scheduled for sometime this year.

A second defense expert told the Russian newswire the drone/jet has a top speed of about 621 miles per hour:

The Russian Defense Ministry and the Sukhoi Company signed a contract for developing the 20-ton Okhotnik (Hunter) heavy unmanned strike aircraft in 2011. The drone’s mock-up model was made in 2014. According to unconfirmed reports, composite materials and anti-radar coating were used to create the Okhotnik. The drone is equipped with a reaction-jet propulsion and is supposed to develop a speed of 1000 kilometers per hour, said TASS.

Sam Bendett, a researcher at the CNA Corporation and a member of CNA’s Center for Autonomy and AI, previously told Defense One, “Sounds like Russia wants everything to be included into the new design at once.In reality, they will probably have to compromise, selecting more realistic qualifications for the new aircraft.”

He added: “Most importantly, this will be an expensive endeavor, further pushing Russian designers and the Ministry of Defense to be more selective in approving the final aircraft specs. However, some qualifications, like optional manning, autonomy and some form of artificial intelligence will probably be included.”

In the end, Bendett says, Moscow’s objective may be to move away from manned aircraft altogether.

“Ohotnik is barely flying yet and some time will pass before it becomes an operational variant. Nonetheless, this unmanned aerial vehicle and Russia’s future combat aircraft plans offer a glimpse into Moscow’s thoughts on future warfare,” he noted.

The U.S. military is also testing unmanned drone aircraft.

For instance, the Navy recently selected the MQ-25 aircraft tanker/refuelling drone built by Boeing, which the service plans to use to refuel carrier-based planes at sea.

Also, the U.S. is looking at other designs, including the Kratos XQ-222 Valkyrie, a swarm drone platform for the Air Force, and the Lockheed TR-X, designed to replace the SR-71 spy plane.

The Chinese are also in the combat drone business, with its CH-7 — an apparent clone of a U.S. Navy design, the X-47B, which has since been discontinued.

The CH-7 could also be based on another U.S. design, however, as We Are The Mighty reported:

Some observers suggested the Chinese drone is a sort of copy of the famous Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel, the stealth drone captured by Iran in 2011 and then reverse-engineered by Tehran: according to the information circulating on the Chinese Defense forums, a group of 17 Chinese experts flew to Iran 4 days after…the Sentinel drone had crash landed in Iran during a spy mission, not only to inspect, but also to collect and bring back to China some key components of the RQ-170.

Crash of Russian Tu-22 ‘Backfire’ bomber indicates risks Moscow will take to prepare for war with U.S.

A video that surfaced earlier this month showing the fatal crash of a Russian Air Force Tu-22M3 “Backfire” bomber on or about Jan. 22 at a remote airfield in the Murmansk region appears to indicate the extreme risks Moscow is willing to take in order to prepare for war with the United States.

The Washington Free Beacon noted that the aircraft was on a training missing carrying an inert training round mock-up of the Raduga Kh-22 (NATO Codename AS-4 “Kitchen”), a long-range weapon designed to attack enemy surface warships launched by planes from the same region of Russia, in the North Atlantic.

In particular, the design of the Kh-22 and similar air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) carried by Tu-22M3 Backfires are specialized to destroy American aircraft carriers.

Analysts note that the crash this month of the Russian bomber, which carried the unit designation of “35 Red” and tail number RF-94159, occurred in horrible weather: Conditions were snowy and extremely foggy, indicating that the aircraft very likely should have been redirected to a different airfield. All but one of the four-person crew died in the crash:

As you can see around the 1:10 mark, the bomber is coming in for an approach very fast. As the runway nears, it becomes obvious that the pilot was not aware it was so close until it is too late. He lands the plane at a sink rate that is too high and it breaks apart into two pieces, bursting into flames.

But the fact that Russian Air Force officials were so willing to risk a valuable strike aircraft and crew shows the willingness of the Kremlin to push its forces in training for the next major conflict, which would likely involve launching strikes in such incliment weather.

Delivering carrier-killing Kh-22 missiles was always a primary mission of this aircraft. Because the plane could launch its payload from great distances is why the Pentagon developed and fielded the F-14 Tomcat, at the time the only American fighter capable of carrying an air-to-air missile with enough range to intercept Tu-22Ms before they could launch.

“What unnerves NATO military officials is that these kinds of training missions being conducted in such poor weather and other actions by the Russian air forces show Moscow is clearly still preparing for war against the U.S. Navy in a major military confrontation,” the Free Beacon noted.

The training mission and crash also come at a time when Russian fighters are increasingly harassing U.S. warships and aircraft flying in international waters.

But why? One Russian specialist who has reported on such incidents for years told the news site: “The Russian military does not realize that Barack Obama is no longer your president. They do not understand they are continuing to operate as before and that it is a far dangerous game to be playing with a more resolute person as the U.S. commander-in-chief.”

There have been four crashes of Tu-22M3 Backfires in the past four years, and while the Kremlin has upgraded some of them with new avionics and radar, the end of their useful service life is rapidly approaching.

What’s more, there isn’t a design in the works in Russia to replace the Backfires, which is giving the Russian Air Force a “use it or lose it” attitude about the planes and how they are operated.

“The Soviet military and political leadership of the Cold War was terrified of war—they had enough near-term memories of what WWII was like and would go to some lengths to avoid it,” said a former Pentagon official who spoke to the Free Beacon. “The people in charge in the Kremlin appear to have very little—if any—of this type of self-restraint.”

Would Trump consider replacing U.S. troops in Syria with American mercenaries?

By Jon Dougherty

In May 2017, Erik Prince, a former Navy Seal and founder of private military contractor Blackwater USA, pitched an idea to President Donald Trump that he should consider using private military contractors (PMCs), another name for “mercenaries,” in Afghanistan.

Prince, whose sister is Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, detailed his plan in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. Calling his the “MacArthur Model” after famous World War II and Korean War Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Prince noted that the war has cost America trillions with no appreciable gains some 17 years after President George W. Bush invaded in the aftermath of 9/11.

Here’s a synopsis of what he suggested to the president:

— “First, he should consolidate authority in Afghanistan with one person: an American viceroy who would lead all U.S. government and coalition efforts—including command, budget, policy, promotion and contracting—and report directly to the president…. A better approach would resemble Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s leadership of postwar Japan. Given clear multiyear authority, MacArthur made bold moves like repealing restrictive speech laws and granting property rights. Those directives moved Japan ahead by centuries.”

— “Second, Mr. Trump should authorize his viceroy to set rules of engagement in collaboration with the elected Afghan government to make better decisions, faster. Troops fighting for their lives should not have to ask a lawyer sitting in air conditioning 500 miles away for permission to drop a bomb.”

— “Third, we must build the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces the effective and proven way, instead of spending billions more pursuing the ‘ideal’ way.”

What is the ideal way?

For 250 years, the East India Company prevailed in the region through the use of private military units known as “presidency armies.” They were locally recruited and trained, supported and led by contracted European professional soldiers. The professionals lived, patrolled, and—when necessary—fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their local counterparts for multiyear deployments. That long-term dwelling ensured the training, discipline, loyalty and material readiness of the men they fought alongside for years, not for a one-time eight-month deployment.

An East India Company approach would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support. The U.S. military should maintain a small special-operations command presence in the country to enable it to carry out targeted strikes, with the crucial difference that the viceroy would have complete decision-making authority in the country so no time is wasted waiting for Washington to send instructions. A nimbler special-ops and contracted force like this would cost less than $10 billion per year, as opposed to the $45 billion we expect to spend in Afghanistan in 2017.

Prince had additional suggestions, but his principle suggestion was to replace the still-significant number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan with PMCs because he believes they could be more effective and a better deal for taxpayers.

More details were laid out in a Sept. 2018 Military Times article which noted that Prince’s $5 billion plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan included deploying some 5,500 private contractors — mostly former special operations troops — and a 90-aircraft private air force for close-air support.

The president never adopted this strategy. Subsequent reports following Prince’s op-ed noted that then-National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, a former U.S. Army lieutenant general; then-Defense Secretary James Mattis, a former Marine general; and John Kelly, another former four-star Marine general who was then the president’s Homeland Security secretary and would later become chief of staff were all opposed to the idea.

But the three of them are gone now and, according to Asia Times, Prince’s plan has not died, and now that the president has announced he wants half of the 14,000 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan to be withdrawn, some believe the time has come to implement it.

One of them is Sean McFate, a former US Army officer and private military contractor and author.

“Erik Prince has been waiting in the wings for Mattis and General Kelley to leave, and he is then going to re-pitch his Afghanistan plan to the president, who, I am told, is sympathetic to it,” he told Asia Times. “Previously, the generals had blocked a one-on-one meeting, but they are all gone. There is a high likelihood they will meet.”

He said he believes that Prince “will pitch a simple plan, basically a handwave that we can solve all these problems with 6,500 contractors,” which he described as “absurd.”

However, McFate believes if Prince gets an audience with Trump he’ll also pitch a similar plan for Syria.

“Syria is now a better opportunity to demonstrate proof of concept” than Afghanistan, McFate added.

Russian mercenaries operating with the Wagner Group, with Moscow’s tacit, though not public, approval, have been in Syria for a couple of years.

In fact, hundreds of Wagner mercenaries were killed and wounded by U.S. and Syrian allies nearly a year ago in February 2018, a battle that has since been acknowledged by then-CIA Director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has opposed Prince’s idea, so that means it’s a non-starter in his country. But Syria is another matter.

The Russian military depends primarily on conscripts so after its own decade-long stint in Afghanistan and following a disastrous showing in Chechnya in the 1990s, Moscow has grown risk-averse when it comes to the lives of military personnel.

That’s what makes utilizing the Wagner Group — and “volunteer” and “Cossack” forces  that have appeared throughout Russia — so appealing. Deployed largely in a light infantry role, which is most prone to casulties, Russian President Vladimir Putin can avoid the domestic fallout of losing troops while still achieving its military and foreign policy objectives.

That said, according to reports, Wagner personnel nevertheles utilize Russian state facilities – bases, aircraft and hospitals – and are even awarded Russian state medals.

Another issue for American PMCs is this: What happens if they encounter Russian counterparts and exchange fire and casualties? McFate told Asia Times he thinks such incidents could lead to an escalation.

Still another question remains — is Prince even in business? He has said he has gotten out since selling Blackwater, but he still has contacts in the PMC industry.

Russian special ops to get futuristic ‘mini-subs’

Russian special forces — SPETNAZ — are set to receiving as many as a half-dozen new futuristic mini-submarines that they’ll use for a range of missions, including covert insertions, according to Tass.

Called bathyscaphes, the underwater craft are transparent and were originally designed to inspect and troubleshoot underwater pipelines.

“However, the Main Directorate of Deep-Water Research of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation showed interest in the apparatus, and it considers these bathyscaphes as a means for conducting special underwater operations,” a military source told the news agency.

The source noted that “the unit during its transfer to the Navy will perform tasks on three fleets – the Northern, Pacific and Black Sea. Each of these fleets will receive at least two vehicles.”

Officials noted that work on the vessels is expected to begin this year.

Each bathyscaphe is equipped with manipulators that allow them to perform work at depths up to 2.5 km (1.5 miles) with a crew of three.

“The device will have the form of a ball with a transparent case of acrylic and titanium, the engine will be electric, ensuring continous operation for at least 24 hours,” the official noted. “Almost any civilian and military vessel can be the carrier of this device.”

The mini-subs can “operate on the sea floor in many parts of the global ocean,” Samuel Bendett, a researcher at the CNA Corporation and a fellow in Russia Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, told Defense News.

“The fact that there are no limitations on what vessel can carry it where means that there would be fewer limitations for the Russian special forces to act, via this deep-diving vessel,” he added.

Defense News noted further that the U.S. Navy is in the process of developing similar undersea vessels for its SEAL operators.

Lockheed Martin received a $166 million contract in 2016 to design and build new combat submarines based on its commmercial S301i submersible. Testing should be finished this year, the news site reported.