US sanctions reveal how Mexico’s powerful Jalisco cartel is seizing control at a major Pacific port

Mexico Manzanillo Colima drug shipment seizure
A Mexican marine carries packs of cocaine after a drug bust aboard a ship in the port of Manzanillo in Colima state, November 5, 2007.

  • This month, the US sanctioned suspected Jalisco cartel members, accusing them of controlling drug operations at the port of Manzanillo.
  • Manzanillo is a crucial entry point for fentanyl and methamphetamine precursor chemicals from Asia.
  • Control of Manzanillo is vital to CJNG’s efforts to dominate the synthetic drug trade into the US and the group’s expansion across Mexico.

The United States has sanctioned four suspected members of Mexico’s powerful CJNG cartel, alleging that they controlled drug operations at a Pacific port that is a crucial entry point for fentanyl and methamphetamine precursor chemicals from Asia.

Aldrin Miguel Jarquín Jarquín, Jose Jesus Jarquín Jarquín, César Enrique Diaz de León Sauceda and Fernando Zagal Antón are alleged to be members of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generació – CJNG) operating out of the Manzanillo port and surrounding areas in the state of Colima, the US Treasury Department said in an October 6 news release.

Treasury officials say the men “coordinate CJNG’s drug trafficking operations through the port of Manzanillo” and maintain contact with cocaine suppliers in Colombia.

The Jarquín Jarquín brothers, as well as Diaz de Leon Sauceda, are allegedly among the most senior members of the CJNG operating out of Manzanillo. They report directly Julio Alberto Castillo Rodriguez, the son-in-law of CJNG boss Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” according to the Treasury Department.

The CJNG’s “criminal success is partly due to its influence over strategic locations such as Manzanillo,” said Andrea M. Gacki, director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

“This Pacific coast port serves as a significant gateway for Colombian cocaine and precursor chemicals imported from Asia, including those used to synthesize fentanyl,” she said in the news release.

It’s not just fentanyl products moving through Manzanillo. In early July, 50,000 kilograms of benzyl chloride, used in the production of methamphetamines, were seized at the port.

InSight Crime analysis

Mexico Colima Manzanillo
Navy members patrol the coast in Manzanillo, Mexico, May 2, 2020.

Control of the port of Manzanillo is crucial to CJNG’s efforts to dominate the lucrative synthetic drug trade into the United States and the group’s expansion across Mexico.

A report, “Mexico’s Role in the Deadly Rise of Fentanyl,” published in February 2019 by InSight Crime and the Wilson Center found that the port of Manzanillo accounted for the lion’s share of seizures of fentanyl precursor chemicals entering the country.

The CJNG, though, wasn’t always the dominant player in what had once been a sleepy port. In 2016, violence surged around Colima in a three-way battle among the CJNG, the Sinaloa Cartel and a faction of the Zetas. The CJNG was ultimately able to consolidate its control of Manzanillo by forging alliances with local gangs.

The CJNG was also positioned to deal in fentanyl, given its background in methamphetamine trafficking.

The group’s control of the port has been crucial to its swift rise as one of Mexico’s main fentanyl traffickers into the United States, according to a January 2020 US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intelligence report.

Combating smuggling at the Manzanillo port has become a priority of Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who visited Manzanillo himself as a show of commitment. In January of this year, he gave the Mexican Navy, direct control of the country’s seaports.

The US and China have also worked together to crack down on the supply of fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds. But halting the smuggling of fentanyl and its precursors is not likely to happen any time soon.

The shutdown of the Chinese city of Wuhan – an epicenter of fentanyl manufacturing – amid the COVID-19 pandemic led to the sourcing of fentanyl and its precursors from other countries. Meanwhile, criminal groups like the CJNG ramped up their manufacturing capabilities.

Read the original article on Business Insider

North and South Korea are both showing off new weapons, but they’re trying to send very different messages

North Korea Kim Jong Un submarine
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un aboard a submarine in an undated photo released on June 16, 2014.

  • North Korea said it successfully tested a new, smaller submarine-launched ballistic missile on Tuesday.
  • South Korea has also been busy showing off its military prowess recently, but its defense ambitions are driven by several complex factors.

North Korea has announced that it successfully tested a new, smaller submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, on Tuesday.

State media claimed the missile – launched from the same submarine from which Pyongyang tested its first Pukguksong-1 SLBM in August 2016 – has “advanced control guidance technologies, including flank mobility and gliding skip mobility,” designed to make it harder to track and intercept.

The name of the submarine used for the launch-the “8.24 Yongung”-also seems noteworthy, as a reflection of the importance Pyongyang puts on this vessel: It means “hero” and apparently signifies the August 24 date of the 2016 SLBM launch.

The test is another sign that Pyongyang is trying to secure a second-strike capability – the ability to respond to a nuclear attack with its own nuclear weapons. The aim would be to protect the regime and perhaps even cause Washington to hesitate in defending Seoul in the event of an attack, for fear of possible North Korean SLBM strikes.

The launch came on the heels of an extravagant display of force the previous week. Pyongyang showed off some of its new weapons and military hardware on October 11, to mark the 76th anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party the day before.

It’s a common ritual in the insular one-party state, but this year, the format was different. For the first time, new additions to the country’s arsenal were on display at a museum-style exhibition rather than a military parade or other major celebration.

North Korea submarine launched ballistic missile test
A new submarine-launched ballistic missile during a test in undated photos released by North Korea on October 19, 2021.

It appears Pyongyang is trying to instill a greater sense of national pride and patriotism in North Koreans about their country’s military might, while portraying itself to the world as a modern, normal state.

Clad in a Western-style suit, the young dictator Kim Jong Un explained in his commemoration speech that the “grand-scale exhibition, a crystallization of our Party’s revolutionary defense policy and its robust viability, is an epoch-making demonstration of our national strength no less significant than a large-scale military parade,” according to state media.

Billed as the “Defense Development Exhibition ‘Self-Defense 2021,'” the event boasted new weaponry that North Korean officials insist are meant for self-defense – to serve as a deterrent against the “hostile policy” of the United States.

On display were an intercontinental ballistic missile; a new hypersonic glide vehicle, a rail-mobile short-range ballistic missile and a long-range cruise missile, all of which Pyongyang claimed to have successfully tested last month; and a submarine-launched ballistic missile – presumably the one it tested this week – among an array of other military hardware. These weapon systems, if deployed, could directly threaten South Korea, Japan and even the United States.

Clearly, the regime has been checking off Kim’s wish list that he disclosed at the 8th Party Congress in January, which included many of the weapon systems that were on display last week. Even if these weapons have not yet been perfected, the disclosure of their existence, not to mention the regime’s propaganda, provide ample indication of its intent.

It is only a matter of time until North Korea acquires the capability to reliably put these advanced weapons to practical use, even if that may seem like a fantasy for now.

Kim Jong Un meeting soldiers
Kim Jong Un meets fighter pilots at a defense development exhibition on October 11, 2021.

Of course, such technological perfection may not even be necessary for the time being. The ability to arm even a rudimentary hypersonic or ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead would still threaten South Korea and Japan. Even the perception of having that capability would provide Pyongyang with political leverage in future negotiations with Washington, as well as a measure of legitimacy and loyalty at home.

With the Biden administration continuing its overtures for dialogue, a defense expo achieves the same effect of a show of force without being seen as overtly provocative in the eyes of the international community. There may also be an element of trying to portray itself as a modern and prosperous nation despite North Korea’s economic difficulties amid its self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic and continued effects of international sanctions for its nuclear weapons development.

Moreover, calling the event “Self-Defense 2021” suggests there may be more shows to come in future years. Perhaps Pyongyang even envisions inviting foreign buyers and defense industry insiders to its expos in the distant future.

Ultimately, goose-stepping military parades are reminiscent of backward totalitarian regimes, particularly in the eyes of developed countries in the West, while defense exhibitions depict modern, wealthy states that are also militarily strong.

For example, South Korea grew out of its own military parades in the process of becoming a democracy, downsizing or canceling them in the 1990s and eventually replacing them with defense exhibitions and air shows. Seoul’s own biennial defense exhibition kicked off this week.

Seoul, for its part, has also been busy showing off its military prowess in recent months, testing its first submarine-launched ballistic missile, rolling out plans for high-tech weapons development and increasing its military spending. The timing of the two Koreas’ weapons tests has raised concerns about a new arms race on the peninsula.

South Korean submarine-launched ballistic missile
South Korea’s first underwater-launched ballistic missile is test-fired from a submarine in South Korean waters, September 15, 2021.

However, the reality is that Seoul’s defense ambitions are driven by several complex factors and are not necessarily intended for escalating tensions with the North. Most of its weapons development plans were in place long before President Moon Jae-in took office, though Moon’s government seems to have accelerated a few of them, particularly Seoul’s naval capabilities.

More broadly, Moon’s political objective is to meet the necessary conditions to transfer wartime operational control, or OPCON, to South Korea from the United States and persuade US President Joe Biden to actively support Moon’s vision for inter-Korean peace by showing maximum flexibility in its approach to the North.

Seoul believes that developing more advanced weapons and boosting its military spending would demonstrate its seriousness about deterrence in the face of North Korean nuclear and missile threats, thereby meeting OPCON requirements.

One way to indicate high military spending, South Korean government insiders tell me, has been to shorten the time period necessary for some defense acquisition projects in the military’s budget proposals, which in effect increases yearly spending.

A successful OPCON transfer would also help Moon achieve his motto of “military sovereignty,” which is in line with South Korean progressives’ ideology of ridding the country of US influence and its reliance on Washington for national security.

Another underlying motivation for Seoul is to create an environment that enables Moon to leave behind a “Korean peace” legacy before his term ends next March. In remarks at the UN Generally Assembly last month, Moon reinvigorated his push for a declaration to formally end the Korean War, for which hostilities ceased in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

To this end, Seoul has been aiming for a summit among the leaders of the four main parties to the conflict – the two Koreas, the US and China – on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next February. However, North Korea has rejected Seoul’s proposal as purely symbolic, and Washington rightfully remains wary of signing a war-ending declaration with a state that continues to build up its nuclear weapons in contravention of numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Moon Jae-in South Korea KF-21 fighter jet
President Moon Jae-in in front of a prototype of South Korea’s first homegrown fighter jet, KF-21, at its rollout ceremony, April 9, 2021.

Still, South Korea remains hopeful, even as North Korea threatens further missile tests and nuclear weapons development. Employing parallel tactics of scorn and flattery, Pyongyang has also taken advantage of Moon’s desperation to secure his legacy by restoring an inter-Korean communication line and dangling hopes for a war-ending declaration and another inter-Korean summit – provided that Seoul works harder to satisfy the Kim regime and break with Washington.

Moon has met Kim in person three times during his presidency. One last inter-Korean summit would provide Moon with the justification needed to ratify the 2018 inter-Korean summit agreement in the National Assembly, where his ruling Democratic Party holds a supermajority. That would legally bind the next South Korean administration to Moon’s policy of maximum engagement without conditions with the North, which many conservative critics say could jeopardize South Korea’s national security.

A victory for Moon’s party in the presidential election next March, which Pyongyang is apparently trying to influence with its latest flattery, would also be a win for North Korea. This is because conservative South Korean governments tend to impose higher bars for inter-Korean engagement and denuclearization and are more closely aligned with the United States.

Against the backdrop of these security and political dynamics on the Korean Peninsula, the fundamental challenge for the Biden administration is to persuade the Kim regime to come back to the negotiating table and curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons development.

However, Kim has so far rejected the Biden team’s overtures, and the chances to resume diplomacy are further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. Pyongyang’s refusal to return to direct talks any time soon and its unwillingness to even receive international humanitarian assistance are apparently due to fears of importing the virus.

The traditional method of sanctions enforcement against the North, aimed at halting the flow of funds that finance North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, has also become difficult to maintain due to the country’s self-isolation during the pandemic.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in stroll together at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea
Kim and Moon at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, April 27, 2018.

Still, waiting patiently is not an option, as North Korea’s nuclear weapons program continues “full steam ahead,” as the International Atomic Energy Agency announced last month. In the near term, countries that are in contact with Pyongyang could help persuade the regime that there are safe methods to receive vaccines and humanitarian aid, as well as to conduct official discussions with US counterparts.

The Biden administration should continue with its overtures and consistent messages about meeting without preconditions and harboring no hostile intentions toward North Korea. Meanwhile, Washington and the international community should tighten sanctions against Pyongyang’s cybercrimes and punish third-party entities involved in trade and illicit financial activities with the regime. The exorbitant earnings from such activities have become a lucrative source of financing for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

At the same time, Washington should prepare a strategy for when the pandemic subsides or when North Korea appears ready to engage once more. Challenges still loom because Pyongyang continues to maintain that its preconditions for dialogue include the removal of international sanctions, as well as an end to US-South Korean military drills and criticisms of Pyongyang’s human-rights violations – all of which remain nonstarters for the Biden administration.

Even if diplomacy resumes in earnest, the road ahead will be dotted with landmines. Yet inaction and the absence of bold initiatives toward denuclearization and peace will yield even bigger problems.

Duyeon Kim is an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, based in Seoul. She specializes in the Korean Peninsula, East Asian relations, nuclear nonproliferation, arms control and security regimes.

Read the original article on Business Insider

For the US’s Vietnam-era covert special operators, the quietest missions were also the most dangerous

Air Force UH-1P Huey helicopter Cambodia
US Air Force Bell UH-1P helicopters from the 20th Special Operations Squadron fly into Cambodia in 1970.

  • During the Vietnam War, a select group of US commandos carried out secret missions behind enemy lines.
  • MACV-SOG, as it was known, sent small teams on across Vietnam’s borders to conduct raids and gather intelligence.
  • The enemy was the best source for that intelligence, but capturing prisoners was SOG’s most dangerous mission.

During the Vietnam War, a select group of American commandos conducted some of the most sensitive missions of the entire conflict, including snatching live enemy prisoners.

Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations (MACV-SOG) was a covert special-operations unit conducting cross-border operations into Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, Thailand, and possibly elsewhere.

Composed of Green Berets, Recon Marines, Navy SEALs, Air Commandos, and local fighters and mercenaries, SOG specialized in strategic reconnaissance, direct action, and unconventional-warfare operations.

SOG went where US troops weren’t supposed to be, as US presidential administrations had publicly said no American GIs were fighting outside South Vietnam.

Their main battleground was the infamous Ho Chi Mihn Trail that snaked from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia and into South Vietnam, supplying the insurgency there.

Across the border

Vietnam War SOG special operations
A SOG team reconnoiters the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.

Cross-border operations were fraught with danger. The small SOG recon teams had to survive on their wits against a devastatingly superior enemy force.

It was not uncommon for recon teams of 10 or fewer commandos to be compromised and face off against hundreds or thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers.

SOG commandos would be inserted by helicopters or small boats miles from their target and patrol toward their objective while trying to avoid the thousands of enemy troops scattered throughout the area.

One of SOG’s primary mission sets was to gather intelligence about North Vietnamese troop numbers and movements. During these reconnaissance operations, SOG commandos would try to observe or take photographs of enemy formations, camps, or other details, such as bulldozer or tank trails.

They would also often try to bug enemy communication lines along the Ho Chi Minh Trail or place seismic sensors that supposedly could calculate the number of troops passing through. They could also steal documents and maps that contained the positions and numbers of enemy in the vicinity.

In order to make sense of that intelligence, US commanders and military intelligence officers needed someone to provide context – or, even better, the “plans and intentions” behind it.

The enemy was the best source for that information, but capturing live prisoners was perhaps the most dangerous and risky mission that SOG commandos conducted.

‘We want prisoners’

MACV-SOG Vietnam special operations forces
SOG Recon Team getting ready to be inserted.

MACV-SOG encouraged and incentivized prisoner snatching, either as a specific objective or when the opportunity presented itself. SOG recon teams that captured an enemy soldier received a $100 bonus, plus five days of relaxation and recuperation anywhere in the world.

SOG teams had “a few contingency-based” standard-operating procedures for prisoner-of-war operations, “not the honey-pot snatch you’re thinking about,” John Stryker Meyer, a Green Beret who deployed twice with SOG, told Insider, referring to a practice in covert operations in which a person, usually a woman, is used to lure a target, typically a man.

There were no overarching standard-operating procedures for capturing live prisoners, however, and every SOG team had to come up with innovative ways that worked for them.

One SOG operator, Lynne Black, devised a creative but dangerous method. Black calculated the right amount of C-4 plastic explosive needed to knock out but not kill a man – only after much trial and error, including testing different amounts on himself and knocking himself unconscious several times.

Black’s method required a SOG operator to place an explosive charge on a path or trail behind enemy lines and detonate it remotely after a North Vietnamese soldier had passed by.

The blast would stun but not kill the enemy soldier, and the SOG commandos would pounce, apprehending the disoriented North Vietnamese. If they could only find groups of North Vietnamese troops, the SOG recon team would kill everyone but the man targeted for capture.

MACV-SOG Vietnam special operations forces
SOG Recon Team practicing extraction by rope ladders.

Another approach was to actually assault a small North Vietnamese position deep behind enemy lines.

SOG recon teams carried a lot more firepower than a conventional unit of the same size, but they were only made up of six to 10 operators, which meant they were limited in which outposts they could attack. They couldn’t assault an enemy camp, but they could go after one of the checkpoints that littered the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Meyer described how those “door-knock missions” were conducted along the trail in 1969 and 1970.

“The NVA had checkpoints with a booth or a little small station, and we were going to hit one of those to get a live POW,” Meyer told Insider. “We’re going to hit it with [tear] gas first, go in there quick, kill everybody except for one and bring them back.”

Meyer has written extensively about his and his comrades’ experiences in SOG, detailing their cross-border missions in “Across the Fence: The Secret War in Vietnam.”

The commitment of North Vietnamese troops, as well as indoctrination efforts by their commanders, often meant the North Vietnamese targeted by SOG teams fiercely resisted capture, equating it to a slow and painful death in American hands.

On one mission, a SOG recon team captured a North Vietnamese prisoner and flew back to their forward operating base. While en route, SOG commandos inspected their prisoner more closely, only to find that it was a woman. In their moment of surprise, the prisoner escaped, jumping from the helicopter to her death.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Cockpit video shows a Russian fighter jet getting up close as a US bomber refuels over the Black Sea

B-1B bomber refuels from KC-135 over Black Sea
A US Air Force B-1B bomber refuels from a KC-135 over the Black Sea, October 19, 2021.

  • A short clip filmed by a Russian Flanker shows the B-1 during air-to-air refueling with a KC-135 over the Black Sea.
  • The US has criticized Russian conduct during previous encounters in the area, but the Russian jet kept its distance this time.

On October 19, 2021, two B-1B Lancer bombers belonging to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, currently deployed to RAF Fairford, UK, as part of Bomber Task Force Europe, executed a counter-maritime mission in the Black Sea region.

During the mission, as they transited through the region and throughout the maritime targeting mission, the BONEs (as the B-1s are dubbed in the pilot community), using callsign “DARK” integrated with Romanian, Polish, and Canadian fighters, supporting the NATO Air Policing mission over Romania and were also supported by RAF Mildenhall’s KC-135 Stratotankers and a Turkish Air Force KC-135.

Needless to say, as happened with similar sorties in the past, the segment flown over the neutral waters of the Black Sea was closely monitored by the Russian Federation air defence: In particular, two Black Sea Fleet Naval Aviation Su-30 Flanker derivatives were scrambled to escort the two B-1s and two accompanying KC-135 tankers as they flew off Crimea.

The pilot of one of the Su-30s also filmed one of the B-1s as it was about to receive fuel from one of the Stratotankers (that looks like to be the Turkish one). The video was then released by the Russian MOD:

Unlike what happened during some famous “unprofessional” intercepts involving P-8s or B-52s, this clip shows the Su-30 remaining at safe distance from the BONEs as it approaches the tanker.

“Our forces are postured to respond to any threat, anywhere, anytime,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, USAFE-AFAFRICA commander in a public release. “BTF provides enhanced interoperability training with our allies and partners, building coalition strength, and bolstering our ability to respond to all threats with unmatched power.”

Unfortunately, no additional details about the mission were released this time. Last year, the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE) command released an official statement about the focus of a mission flown in the last week of May 2020, when the B-1s flew to the Black Sea to train on the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile capability (a mission that, once again saw the BONEs be intercepted by Russian Su-30s). However, it seems quite likely that the B-1s were involved in a similar mission profile.

The AGM-158C LRASM, based on the AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER), is the new low-observable anti-ship cruise missile developed by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) for the US Air Force and US Navy.

It has already been integrated on the B-1B Lancer and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, with integration aboard the P-8 Poseidon and MK41 Vertical Launch Systems currently in the works. The B-1B can carry up to 24 AGM-158C missiles.

Read the original article on Business Insider

China and Russia send message to Japan and US with first-of-its-kind transit by warships

Russia China warships navy exercise Sea of Japan
A group of Russian and Chinese naval vessels during joint military drills in the Sea of Japan in a still image from video taken October 18, 2021.

  • Chinese and Russian vessels have for the first time jointly sailed through the Tsugaru Strait between Japan’s Honshu and Hokkaido islands.
  • The strait is an international waterway due to a Cold War-era decision to allow US ships carrying nuclear weapons to pass through without violating Japan’s non-nuclear position.
  • While legal, the transit is seen as a thinly veiled message to both Japan and the US.

The passage of 10 Chinese and Russian warships through a narrow strait in the north of Japan on Monday did not violate Japan‘s territorial waters but has exploited a loophole that’s set alarm bells ringing in Tokyo, according to analysts.

The fleet had been taking part in joint military drills in the Sea of Japan earlier this month, as the two navies have done in the past, but analysts say it will have been a calculated manoeuvre by Beijing and Moscow to subsequently route the warships through the Tsugaru Strait for the first time.

The strait, which separates the main island of Honshu and the northern prefecture of Hokkaido, is international waters open to foreign ships, but narrows to a chokepoint just 19.5km wide. It connects the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean.

During the Cold War, Tokyo made the deliberate decision to limit its territorial waters to just three nautical miles from the shore of both Honshu and Hokkaido, instead of the 12 it is entitled to claim, in order to leave a narrow passage through the middle.

Chinese navy Nanchang-class destroyer near Japan
Chinese Nanchang-class destroyer No. 101 near Japan, in a photo taken by Japan Self-Defense Forces on October 18, 2021.

The strip of unclaimed water permitted US ships carrying nuclear weapons to transit the strait without violating Japan’s commitment to the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles” of not developing or deploying atomic weapons, as well as not permitting nuclear arms to enter its territory.

The combined Chinese and Russian fleet made the most of that position, although they were closely monitored throughout the journey by a Japanese P-3C maritime surveillance aircraft and two minesweepers. As well as exploiting the territorial anomaly while still complying with international law, the fleet’s passage will have been seen in Tokyo as a thinly veiled warning.

On Tuesday, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki said Tokyo was “closely watching Chinese and Russian naval vessels’ activities around Japan like this one with high interest”.

“We will continue to do our utmost in our surveillance activity in waters and airspace around Japan,” he said at a regular news conference.

“China and Russia have carried out these exercises in the past, but this is the first time their ships have used the Tsugaru Strait to enter the Pacific,” said a security analyst with the National Institute of Defence Studies (NIDS), affiliated with the Defence Ministry in Tokyo.

Russian navy Udaloy-class destroyer near Japan
Russian Udaloy-class destroyer No. 548 near Japan, in a photo taken by Japanese Self-Defense Forces on October 18, 2021.

“China appears to be showing off its military strength to Japan and its ability to sail where it wants to, while Russia is sending a similar message to the US,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

“This will cause concern in Tokyo, as we see the strategic cooperation between the two nations’ forces intensifying and directed at Japan,” he said, adding that Chinese warships’ increased access to the Pacific and the east coast of the Japanese archipelago was an added concern, as this was where most the nation’s military installations were located.

The Chinese, US and South Korean navies have used the route in the past but traverses by the latter two countries never raised concerns as they were considered allied or non-belligerent states.

But the ministry analyst anticipates that now the Chinese and Russian navies have sailed the waters between Honshu and Hokkaido, they are very likely to repeat the manoeuvre in the future.

James Brown, an associate professor of international relations specialising in security issues at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, said that what was essentially a “parade of 10 foreign warships” just a few kilometres off the coast of Japan was “symbolic, but also a real cause for concern” in Tokyo.

“China and Russia continue to get closer together and together they are communicating the message that they can create difficulties for Japan,” he told This Week in Asia. “And while it’s important to point out that they have not violated Japan’s territorial waters, this is all about signalling.”

Russia Vladimir Putin China Xi Jinping BRICS
Chinese President Xi Jinping with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in China’s Fujian Province, September 4, 2017.

The joint crossing comes as Japan’s ties with China continue being plagued by conflicting claims over a group of tiny East China Sea islets. Tokyo has a territorial dispute with Moscow, as well.

Neither Beijing nor Moscow are happy about the creation – and possible expansion – of the Quad security alliance, which brings together the US, Japan, Australia and India, Brown said, while a demonstration of shared military capabilities so close to Japan could also be interpreted as a warning that Japan should not consider following in Australia’s footsteps and obtaining a nuclear submarine capability, potentially expanding the Aukus alliance.

The Defence Ministry in Tokyo identified the five Chinese vessels as a Renhai-class destroyer, a Luyang-III destroyer, a pair of Jiangkai-class frigates and a Fuchi-class replenishment vessel, the Nikkei newspaper reported. The Russian component was made up of two Udaloy-class destroyers, a pair of Steregushchiy frigates and a Marshal Nedelin-class missile tracking vessel.

The Chinese vessels were initially identified entering the Sea of Japan between Kyushu and the Korean peninsula on October 11 and were understood to have taken part in the Naval Interaction 2021 exercises with their Russian counterparts between October 14 and 17.

The exercises included anti-submarine warfare operations, both during the day time and at night, and signalling drills.

As part of their ramped-up cooperation in the region, China and Russia have been carrying out more joint military exercises in the region, although last year’s scheduled drills were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Collaboration between the two militaries has also been seen in their air assets, with bomber units carrying out joint manoeuvres.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A deal for nuclear-powered subs is only the latest secretive collaboration between US, UK, and Australian forces

President Joe Biden, joined virtually by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, announces the new trilateral security initiative “AUKUS” at the White House on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021.
President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announce the “AUKUS” security initiative at the White House, September 15, 2021.

  • The AUKUS pact between Australia, the UK, and the US, is a new phase in their tight military relationship.
  • The pact focuses on military technology, but those three countries already have decades of cooperation in special operations.
  • Amid tensions with China, the new arrangement could provide new ways to counter Beijing in the Indo-Pacific region.

In September, President Joe Biden and the prime ministers of Australia and the UK announced a new defense partnership, surprising allies and competitors alike.

The initiative, known as AUKUS, infuriated France, which lost out on the sale of submarines worth close to $60 billion, and alarmed China, which sees the pact as a direct threat.

Although AUKUS leaders say their initiative isn’t aimed at any country in particular, it is clear that the deal was designed to counter Chinese influence and ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region.

The pact centers on an agreement for the US and UK to provide nuclear-propulsion technology to Australia, but that is only the tip of a collaboration iceberg between the three countries. Their cooperation goes back decades, and special-operations forces have been a key component.

Cut from the same cloth

UK Britain Special Air Service North Africa World War II WWII
SAS members after a three-month patrol in North Africa during World War II.

Most modern Western special-operations units can trace their lineage to the British Special Air Service in World War II. The commonalities that created became clear during the past two decades of war in the Middle East and Africa.

Allied countries often train together to ensure interoperability, to learn from one another, and to hone their war-fighting skills in a more realistic environment. The US Army’s Delta Force has a deep relationship with the Australian SAS, and the two units often train in Australia and the US.

In addition to regular training, the special-operations communities of the three countries share a close relationship through exchange programs in which individuals or groups from one unit spend time serving with one of their direct counterparts. These exchange programs have existed for decades.

Most exchanges take place at the Tier 1 level, among the US’s Delta Force and Naval Special Warfare Development Group (formerly known as SEAL Team 6), the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), and the British Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS).

Insider understands that other Tier 1 units from the US and UK also exchange operators, though the exact units and their activities have not been publicly disclosed.

Exchanging troops

US Army Gen. William Westmoreland in Vietnam
US Army Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of US forces in Vietnam, at the 1st Royal Australian Regiment’s base on one of his last days in Vietnam.

Australian commandos have spent time in the US in exchange programs with Delta Force and Naval Special Warfare Development Group. Likewise, American special operators have been seconded to the Australian SAS. That relationship started during the Vietnam War when Australian SAS troopers joined Navy SEAL platoons in the Mekong Delta and targeted Vietcong insurgents.

US special-operations units also share a very close relationship with their British counterparts. Delta Force, the US Army’s premier special-missions unit for counterterrorism and hostage-rescue, was created after its founder, Col. Charlie Beckwith, then a young Green Beret, spent two years as an exchange officer with the SAS.

The links between Australia and the UK are even tighter. Australia’s primary special-operations unit, the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), is model on and named after the British Special Air Service (SAS). Exchanges between the two communities are common.

During the infamous Bravo Two Zero mission in the first Gulf War, two of the eight troopers deployed with the British SAS unit involved weren’t British. One was a former Australian special forces Commando, and the other a New Zealander on exchange from the New Zealand Special Air Service.

Australia SAS commandos Afghanistan
Members of the Royal Australian Regiment on patrol in the Afghan town of Tarin Kowt, August 16, 2008.

Usually such exchange programs remain in the shadows because of the sensitive and classified work that these units do. When someone passes the selection to join Delta Force or the Naval Special Development Group, their identity is classified and they are placed on a special Department of Defense roster.

Sometimes their actions on the ground merit recognition, and their names or unit affiliations are revealed. The same goes for the exchange programs. In the opening days of the war in Afghanistan, an exchange program between the Naval Special Warfare Development Group and the British SBS received some unexpected attention.

In the weeks after the September 11 attacks, US and coalition special-operations forces joined anti-Taliban fighters to topple the Taliban and Al Qaeda. While Delta Force was looking for Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains, hundreds of Taliban prisoners held in a fortress in Mazar-e-Sharif revolted, killing CIA officer Mike Spann, the first American to die in Afghanistan. Green Berets, CIA officers, and an SBS team joined anti-Taliban fighters and swiftly quelled the revolt.

The actions of one SBS member revealed the extent of these exchange programs. Chief Petty Officer Stephen Bass received the Navy Cross, the US’s second-highest award for valor, and the British Military Cross. Although the Navy Cross citation said Bass’ parent unit was SEAL Team 1, he was in fact a SEAL Team 6 operator on a two-year exchange program with the British.

AUKUS special operations

Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Sheean arrives for a logistics port visit on April 1, 2021 in Hobart, Australia
Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Sheean arrives for a pot in Hobart, Australia, April 1, 2021.

While the AUKUS pact focuses on defense technology, it’s also an opportunity for the three countries’ special-operations communities to work together even more closely to counter Chinese influence and aggression in the Indo-Pacific.

In the era of great-power competition – which can range from intense geopolitical competition to proxy wars or even open conflict – access to contested spaces is key.

To counter Chinese activity, US forces need to be able to reach where it’s happening, whether in the buffer zone Beijing has created with its man-made islands in the South China Sea or even the Chinese mainland.

Australia has the regional knowledge and infrastructure to support such operations, and the AUKUS initiative is another way to take advantage of it.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Mexico’s powerful Jalisco cartel is flexing its muscles at opposite ends of Latin America

Mexican soldiers patrol in Humvee in Guadalajara
Mexican soldiers on patrol in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco state, November 22, 2019.

  • Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación is widely seen as Mexico’s asendent cartel, rivaled only by the Sinaloa Cartel.
  • But the group’s ambitions are not limited to controling the drug trade in Mexico.
  • According to sources and documents, the CJNG is stretching its empire into Central and South America with alliances and threats.

Mexico City, MEXICO – Mexico’s ruthless Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) is stretching its criminal empire south into Central and South America by making alliances, threatening authorities, and appropriating drug routes, according to documents and sources who spoke to Insider.

Originally based in the central Mexican state of Jalisco, CJNG has spread operations to almost every state in Mexico and most recently to countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Chile.

Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación has been described by US officials as the “best armed” criminal organization in Mexico and “one of the most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world.”

US authorities have said the organization is attempting to operate in the US through local gangs, but CJNG is looking to own the drug routes and the supply chain throughout Latin America.

A recent report from Chile’s Attorney General’s Office describes how CJNG is trying to establish operations inside the country for “large-scale production of high-concentration marihuana.”

Chile marijuana drug bust
Chilean police arrange packs of confiscated marijuana in a display for the media in Vina del Mar city, November 26, 2009.

Chilean Attorney General Jorge Abbott addressed the issue at a recent press conference, saying Chile had gone from being a transit country for drugs heading north “to be a country where very well known Mexican cartels are looking to settle.”

The cartel’s expanding operations are also troubling Guatemala, where its members recently threatened Guatemala’s National Police for “stealing” a load of drugs belonging to the leader of CJNG, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, known as “El Mencho,” for whom US authorities are offering $5 million.

In a video posted online in early September, supposed members of the CJNG threatened several Guatemalan police officers.

“No one messes with Señor Nemesio’s people. Those things have an owner, and the owner is Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación,” an unidentified man said in the video.

Guatemalan police later confirmed the identity of the officers mentioned in the video and detailed the seizure of a drug load that could have been what the video was referring to.

An operative with the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación detailed the areas of operation in Guatemala for Insider.

The man, who asked not to be identified to avoid retaliation, said CJNG is currently fighting in Central and South America against the Sinaloa Cartel, specifically “Los Chapitos” and “Los Mayos” factions, linked to “El Chapo” Guzmán’s sons and to the alleged active leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.

“We are mostly concentrated in Sinaloa’s plazas, like all the Pacific coast of Guatemala, San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Santa Rosa, Jutiapa, but also Petén, Melchor De Mencos, Alta Verapaz, and Huehuetenango,” the operative said.

Honduras cocaine drug bust
Anti-narcotics and military police officers prepare to incinerate more than 200 kilos of cocaine seized in Honduras near the border with Nicaragua, August 5, 2016.

An active member of the Nicaraguan military also confirmed to Insider the presence of Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación in Honduras and Nicaragua.

The military member, speaking anonymously because they did not have authorization to talk to the media, said they have found bases of operation and “training camps” mostly in the region near the Nicaraguan and Honduran border.

“The Fonseca Gulf is widely used by the CJNG to operate, but also Puerto Lempira in Honduras [and] Corinto, Puerto Sandino and the Caribbean side of Nicaragua,” the military member said.

The Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación is allied with several gangs involved in shipping cocaine to Europe, according to the operative.

“The Sinaloa Cartel used to have a strong hold of the ports in Nicaragua, but lately we have found many operations and arrested some of them [CJNG], which leads us to think they now have more control over drug trafficking than the Sinaloas,” the Nicaraguan military member said.

The Sinaloa Cartel and now Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación are posing new threats to all of the region, according to Sergio Guzmán, director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a Colombia-based security and risk-analysis firm.

“These Mexican organizations used to be partners with other criminal organizations in South and Central America, but during the past few years they have been playing a more active role, to the point where they are now making decisions in many other countries,” Guzman said.

Mexican criminal organizations have had a growing presence in Colombia since the late 1990s, when major Colombian groups like the Medellín and Cali cartels fell from power.

Colombia cocaine production
A farmer sprinkles cement over mulched coca leaves to prepare them to make coca paste at a small makeshift lab in the mountains of Antioquia, Colombia, January 7, 2016.

In the DEA’s first formal investigation of the CJNG, done in 2007, the agency accused “El Mencho” of shipping cocaine from Colombia through Guatemala to the US. In August this year, Colombian authorities arrested Néstor Tarazona Enciso, an alleged member of the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación accused of money laundering, indicating that the cartel has an active physical presence in Colombia.

Guzmán also detailed how the alliance between Mexican criminal organizations and the Clan del Golfo in Colombia, which is now in charge of the cocaine trade from Colombia to the US, could soon change.

“These two organizations, Cartel de Sinaloa and Cartel Jalisco [Nueva Generación] are trying to get closer to the chain of supply, specifically cocaine,” he said.

In 2019, Colombia’s anti-narcotics chief said Mexican criminal groups were shipping an unrefined form of the drug called coca base out of Colombia in and processing it in Mexico, reflecting those efforts to control more of the cocaine supply chain.

Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación’s exponential growth is a direct threat to all of Latin America and should be addressed “by all countries involved,” Guzmán said.

“I see a dangerous gap in the collaboration between countries where these criminal enterprises operate. There is no coordination, and that is what these groups are exploiting to their own benefit,” he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The real reason European countries are upset about the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan

Kabul airport
Afghans hoping to flee the country gather near the military side of the airport in Kabul, August 20, 2021.

  • European leaders expressed shock and dismay at the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in August.
  • Their reaction may reflect concern about another wave of migration like the one that roiled Europe in 2015.
  • European leaders now appear to be taking steps to head off another influx of displaced people.

The US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in mid-August was met with disbelief and anger in Europe.

“The early withdrawal was a serious and far-reaching miscalculation by the current administration,” Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the German parliament’s foreign relations committee, said that month.

Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, the EU’s policy-setting body, said in early September that the crisis in Afghanistan “only reinforces and consolidates” his support for European “strategic autonomy” from the US.

Michel’s remarks highlights European countries’ concern about what will follow the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and they have good reason to be worried.

In 2015, European leaders faced an influx of people fleeing years of war in Syria. Millions of people left that country in search of a better life in Europe, where leaders scrambled to fend them off, integrate them as best as possible, or redirect them to neighboring countries. The policy of open borders inside the EU – a core principle of the bloc – was tarnished as public dissatisfaction rose.

Six years later, European leaders face a repeat of that in the fallout from Afghanistan.

Look to Syria

syrian refugees
A Syrian refugee holds his newborn as he arrives on a raft on the Greek island of Lesbos.

The Syrian civil war began in 2011, and by 2018 some 6.6 million Syrians had fled the country, according to UNHCR. The majority were received by neighboring countries, but a large number of them headed to Europe.

More than 1.3 million people made asylum claims in Europe in 2015 alone, the majority of them from Syria and Afghanistan. At the peak of the crisis, roughly 1,600 people were arriving on Greek islands daily.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel famously allowed hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into Germany. Her decision did not cause the political earthquake many expected at the time, but Germany was the exception.

Migration was a major issue surrounding the Brexit debate. Despite small numbers of migrants or refugees actually reaching the UK, the issue influenced to the referendum’s outcome.

The influx of migrants and refugees also ignited the rise of far-right and anti-establishment parties throughout the continent. In Sweden, Germany, and Greece such parties entered parliaments and even assumed power, as in Italy. Often, their agenda was not just anti-migration but anti-EU, posing a mortal danger to the bloc.

The absence of a common European migration and asylum policy soured relations between southern and southeastern European countries and their central and northern counterparts. Those tensions helped the appeal of anti-establishment parties.

In 2016, under an agreement between the EU and Turkey, the bloc paid Turkey 3 billion euros to keep about 3.5 million Syrian refugees in its borders.

The agreement reduced the number of people reaching the continent. Yet it also outsourced European security to Turkey, which has since weaponized the migrants, using them as leverage to advance its goals in the region.

2015 all over again?

kabul airport crowd
Afghans on the tarmac of Kabul airport, August 16, 2021.

Afghanistan could very well create a repeat of the migration from Syria.

The Taliban have not shown that they can run the country competently or refrain from wanton cruelty. They also have to deal with what UN Secretary General António Guterres has called an imminent “humanitarian catastrophe”: the 18 million Afghans, half of the country’s population, who need immediate humanitarian assistance.

The UN Development Program estimates that Afghanistan’s poverty rate, already a staggering 72%, will skyrocket to 97% within a year.

The US recently allowed for some aid to start flowing to the country and the Taliban might also get support from China. This may not be enough.

The EU, the largest donor of development aid in the world, has made any support contingent on the Taliban’s respect for human rights – a dubious proposition. Meanwhile, Afghan financial assets remain largely frozen.

The numbers of Afghans fleeing the country may come to dwarf those who fled Syria years ago.

Europe shows its teeth

Frontex helicopter patrols over Syrian refugees arriving on an overcrowded dinghy at a beach at the Greek island of Lesbos August 10, 2015. REUTERS/Antonis Pasvantis
A Frontex helicopter patrols over Syrian refugees arriving in an overcrowded dinghy on Lesbos, August 10, 2015.

Europeans are frustrated at the US’s apparent disregard for the challenge that would present. But European leaders now seem to understand the disruptive effects of sudden, massive inflows of migrants and refugees on their societies and on their approval ratings and are working to prepare this time around.

In a summit in Athens on September 17, the heads of government of EU’s Mediterranean countries along with Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, discussed migration and the Afghan crisis.

“We will not allow a repeat of the uncontrolled migration flows that we experienced in 2015,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said at the summit.

Times have changed, according to George Pagoulatos, director general of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Security Policy.

“2021 is no 2015. As in 2015, the EU continues to lack a common migration and asylum policy. However, this time round no member state appears to be willing to open its borders to large migrant and refugee flows from Afghanistan, despite the humanitarian crisis unfolding under the Taliban,” Pagoulatos told Insider.

In recent years, the EU has significantly reinforced Frontex, the bloc’s border and coast-guard agency. Frontex’s annual budget has increased from 143 million euros in 2015 to 543 million euros in 2021.

“The EU emphasis now is on protecting external borders, as the deployment of Frontex forces also demonstrates,” Pagoulatos said.

The 2015 migrant crisis pushed the EU to its limits, and it was left scathed. The bloc lost a member, saw far-right political parties become entrenched, and relinquished a core principle.

Europe now looks like it’s preparing to prevent another such crisis from having the same impact. Europeans also now firmly realize where their interests and US interests do not align. That lingering frustration may only further weaken the transatlantic relationship.

Constantine Atlamazoglou works on transatlantic and European security. He holds a master’s degree on security studies and European affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Why Russia never became an aircraft carrier superpower

admiral Kuznetsov
Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov off the coast of northern Norway, October 17, 2016.

  • Over the past century, the Soviet Union and Russia after it had several grand plans to build and field aircraft carriers.
  • Those plans have largely failed to pan out, in part because of competing military priorities and limited national resources.

The Soviet Union was one of the largest, most industrial proficient countries the world has ever seen.

Yet for all of its engineering talent and manufacturing capacity, during the 74 years the USSR existed it never fielded a true real aircraft carrier. The country had several plans to build them, however, and was working on a true carrier, the Ulyanovsk, at the end of the Cold War.

After the Communists’ victory in 1917, science and engineering were pushed to the forefront in an attempt to modernize Russia and the other Soviet republics. The military was no exception, and poured resources into then-advanced technologies such as tanks, airborne forces, and ground and aerial rockets.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was linked to several carrier projects, including the first effort, Izmail.

In 1927, the Soviet leadership approved plans to build a carrier by converting the unfinished Imperial Russian Navy battlecruiser Izmail, under construction since 1913, to a full-length aircraft carrier.

Completed as a battlecruiser, Izmail was to displace 35,000 tons, making it similar in displacement to (and of the same decade as) the US Navy’s Lexington-class interwar carriers that carried up to 78 aircraft.

Navy aircraft carrier USS Lexington
US Navy aircraft carrier USS Lexington leaving San Diego on October 14, 1941.

Unfortunately for the new Soviet Navy, Izmail’s conversion was never completed and the ship was eventually scrapped.

While the idea of a Soviet carrier did have its supporters, others, including the brilliant young Marshal Tukhachevsky, pointed out that as large as it was, the Soviet Union could not afford to build both an army and a navy to match its most powerful neighbors.

Tukhachevsky had a point, and the Navy took a backseat to Red Army (and Air Force) ambitions. This was a strategic dilemma that the Soviets had inherited from the tsars and that persisted until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 – one that still affects the Russian government today.

The Soviet Union under Stalin came to measure economic and agricultural output in five-year plans, and in 1938, as part of the third five-year plan, laid the groundwork for a pair of aircraft carriers.

The so-called “Project 71” class would be based on the Chapaev-class cruisers, displacing 13,000 tons and with a 630-foot flight deck. The carriers would each carry 15 fighters and 30 torpedo bombers, with one allocated to the Baltic Fleet and one allocated to the Pacific Fleet. The carriers were approved in 1939 but never completed, their construction interrupted by World War II. A second project for a heavier 22,000-ton carrier was proposed but never even began construction.

In the mid-1940s, with the Soviet Union locked in a mortal struggle with Nazi Germany, yet another carrier concept was proposed. “Project 72” was described as similar to the previous carrier project but, at 30,000 tons, more than twice as large.

Another, similar design was Project Kostromitinov, which weighed in at 40,000 tons and would have been equipped with 66 fighters, 40 torpedo bombers and, unusually, 16 152-millimeter guns.

Russia Soviet aircraft carrier Leningrad
A US Defense Department photograph of Soviet helicopter carrier Leningrad, dated April 1, 1990.

This suggests that the carrier might have been used to support amphibious landings in Scandinavia or the Baltics had it ever been built. While the Soviet Union was always a land power for which land warfare should take precedent over sea warfare, the wartime situation in 1943 made it crystal clear that resources could not be taken away from the Red Army to build an aircraft carrier of questionable usefulness.

In the aftermath of the war, with the Red Army the dominant land power in Eurasia, the Soviet Navy again pushed for more carriers. The naval staff wanted a force of 15 carriers, nine large and six small, split between the Pacific and Northern fleets, with six of the large carriers allocated to the Pacific and the rest allocated to the Northern fleet.

Stalin, however, did not want aircraft carriers, preferring to put his faith in battleships and cruisers. Soviet industry gave Stalin cover, explaining they did not yet have the capacity to build new kinds of ships.

Stalin was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev in 1953, but despite Khrushchev’s new ideas in the age of missile warfare the best the Soviet Navy could get out of him was a single light carrier. The carrier, Project 85, would displace just 28,000 tons and carry 40 navalized MiG-19 fighters. This project, too, was canceled even before construction began.

In 1962, the USSR began construction of two aircraft carriers at the Nikolayev shipyards in the Ukraine. The two carriers, Moskva and Leningrad, were compromise ships, with the front half looking like a conventional guided-missile cruiser and the rear half consisting of a flight deck, a hangar and an elevator that transported aircraft between the two.

Russia Soviet Minsk aircraft carrier
Soviet Kiev-class aircraft carrier Minsk, February 9, 1983.

The Moskva class was likely designed to hunt American and British Polaris missile submarines operating near Soviet waters. Each Moskva ship carried up to a dozen anti-submarine warfare helicopters but otherwise lacked offensive armament.

The Moskva class was followed up in the 1970s and 1980s with the Kiev class, which had a similar mission, but the United States was on the verge of fielding the even longer-range Trident missile. This meant that the Soviet Navy would have to operate even farther from its home waters and potentially face off with US Navy aircraft carriers.

As a result, the Kievs had an offensive armament in the form of SS-N-12 “Sandbox” anti-ship missiles, each of which could carry a 350-kiloton nuclear warhead. Four Kievs were built, with a fifth authorized but never completed.

The mid-1980s were a period of major expansion for the Soviet Navy, including aircraft carriers. The USSR began construction on two carriers in the 50,000-ton class and one nuclear-powered supercarrier, Ulyanovsk, that was nearly on par with American Nimitz-class carriers.

Of the three super vessels, only one was completed before the end of the Cold War. The completed carrier was inherited by the Russian Navy, with which it still serves today as the Admiral Kuznetsov.

Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning towed through Bosphorus Strait
A half-built aircraft carrier called Varyag by Russia and owned by Chinese, is towed under the Bosphorus Bridge, November 1, 2001.

The incomplete carrier was purchased by Chinese interests, which forwarded it on to the People’s Liberation Army Navy, where it was refitted and commissioned as the carrier Liaoning in 2012. Ulyanovsk was scrapped by Ukraine, which had inherited the unfinished hull after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

As a land power, the Soviet Union could never allocate enough of the country’s resources to build a real fleet of aircraft carriers.

There was always some other perfectly reasonable – and eminently practical – way to spend the country’s rubles, whether it was on the Army or the Air Force, and later on nuclear weapons.

Even today, the Russian Navy’s nonstrategic forces face stiff competition from land and air forces, and the future of Russian naval aviation is again cloudy at best.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Why you had to be married to fly the CIA’s fastest spy plane

A-12 spy plane
An A-12 aircraft.

  • During the Cold War, the CIA recruited an elite corps of pilots to fly its spy planes – the A-12, the YF-12, and the SR-71.
  • The CIA and Air Force had a set of mental, physical, and marital criteria for pilots hoping to fly the unique aircraft on highly sensitive missions.

The SR-71 Blackbird remains the fastest operational military aircraft in history to this day, despite leaving service more than two decades ago, but its Lockheed predecessor in the A-12 was actually faster.

The A-12 that would ultimately lead to the missile-packing Mach 3 interceptor YF-12 and the missile-defeating legend that is the SR-71 first took to the skies in 1962 under the CIA’s banner in what was dubbed Project Oxcart.

All three of these efforts were highly classified, not only because of the advanced technology Lockheed was developing, but also because – unbeknownst to Moscow – the United States was secretly sourcing materials to build these jets from within the Soviet Union.

In his book, “Archangel: CIA’s Supersonic A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft,” official CIA historian David Robarge offers incredible insight into the Oxcart program, as well as what it took to be chosen to fly America’s highly classified, outrageously fast, and incredibly dangerous new platforms.

The need for keeping secrets

a 12
An A-12 on display.

The A-12 wasn’t just another secret project for Kelly Johnson’s team at Lockheed’s legendary Skunk Works. The program was a massive undertaking in terms of both resources they expended and the results that were expected of them.

Johnson, the aeronautical engineer behind some of the most influential military aircraft designs of the 20th century, had already successfully fielded the high-flying U-2 spy plane for the CIA seven years prior. He’d designed the aircraft to fly right on the edge of space, soaring some 80,000 feet above the ground, using little more than his wits and trusty slide rule in less than a year.

Not only had Johnson’s success with the U-2 made him seem like the right choice for this new secretive and high-flying effort, but test flights of Johnson’s U-2 were also the reasoning behind establishing the now infamous Area 51 – a dry lake bed used as an isolated airstrip in Nevada known as Groom Lake.

While most high-speed aircraft use their afterburners to exceed the speed of sound in short bursts of just a few minutes at a time, the A-12 was meant to sustain those speeds for hours. That meant every inch of the aircraft had to be able to withstand the incredible heat produced by the air itself as it tore by at over 2,300 mph, often raising external temperatures beyond 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Traditional materials used in aircraft construction like steel and aluminum just weren’t capable of withstanding that sort of punishment as reliably as needed.

There was a titanium alloy that was up for the job … but America’s titanium supply simply wasn’t enough. Instead, the CIA used third parties and shell companies to procure the titanium Project Oxcart needed from the world’s largest supplier at the time … the Soviet Union.

With Moscow totally unaware, the US bought the materials it needed to build jets that could defeat their most advanced surface-to-air missiles and fastest intercept fighters from within their own borders. Needless to say, when you’re buying the materials you need to fight your enemy from your enemy, secrecy is paramount.

So when the time came to begin testing Johnson’s latest creation, the powerful new A-12, Groom Lake was once again the logical place to do so … they just needed to find some pilots who were up for the most secretive job in the Air Force.

Mental, physical … and marital requirements for Project Oxcart

Lockheed SR 71 Blackbird
An SR-71 Blackbird.

Air Force officials teamed up with representatives from the CIA and Johnson himself to establish a set of criteria A-12 pilots would have to meet in order to even be considered for the job.

Most of these qualifications seem rather ordinary, with physical requirements established by the practical limitations of cockpit space and an understandably strict requisite in terms of experience in high-performance jets.

“Pilots had to be currently qualified and proficient, with at least 2,000 total flight hours, 1,000 of them in the latest high-performance fighter jets; married, emotionally stable, and well motivated; between 25 and 40 years old; and under six feet tall and 175 pounds so they could fit in the A-12’s cramped cockpit,” CIA historian David Robarge explained.

The requirement that tends to stand out, of course, is marriage. According to legend, the Spartans who met the Persian army at the hot gates of Thermopylae were all required to have sons because the warriors knew they likely wouldn’t be coming back. The Air Force and CIA, on the other hand, were likely looking at being a “family man” in another way.

From our vantage point here in the 21st century, comfortably removed from the looming threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, the idea of worrying about defection seems almost comical. That was not the case during the days of Project Oxcart.

In fact, as Johnson and his team prepared for the first test flight of the A-12 in 1962, at least a dozen American intelligence officials and service members had already turned on the United States since the end of World War II in favor of new homes in the Soviet Union, one of whom was an officer in the US Air Force.

One of those service members, a US Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald, defected in 1959, only to return the year of the A-12’s first test flight with his new Russian wife. A year later, he’d assassinate American President John F. Kennedy, though official reports suggest that killing and his defection were, for the most part, unrelated.

SR-71 Blackbird

You’re apt to find both official and unofficial sources account for the marriage requirement as a measure of maturity, arguing that married men with families are more stable and level-headed.

Even if that supposition doesn’t hold true in practice, the idea that it was a prevalent belief among Defense officials may indeed be true. After all, every potential pilot candidate for Oxcart was subjected to thorough psychological screenings, seemingly proving that mental health was indeed a priority.

However, the marriage requirement was also very likely a bit of social insurance against putting a potential defector behind the stick of America’s most expensive and technologically advanced state secrets.

While no one would come right out and say defection was a concern, there’s no arguing that hiding this program from the Soviet Union and even the American public was an utmost priority.

“The process was kept so secret that the candidates’ superiors did not know what their subordinates were doing. Those who survived the screening were approached to work for the Agency on a highly classified project involving a very advanced aircraft. By November 1961, only five had agreed,” Robarge wrote.

It’s important to note that the pilots chosen for Project Oxcart, as well as many others involved, may have hailed from the Air Force, but ultimately answered to the CIA. Because the A-12 and SR-71 are so similar, you’ll sometimes see people claim the Air Force required their Blackbird pilots to be married. That wasn’t the case.

Ultimately only 11 men were chosen from the Air Force for the dangerous honor of flying the A-12. Two of them, Walter L. Ray and Jack W. Weeks, would lose their lives in crashes as a result.

Project Oxcart would end in 1968, but its successor in the SR-71 would fly for decades to come – and outrun at least 800 surface-to-air missiles, many fired from Soviet soil, along the way.

Read the original article on Business Insider