The Defense Department’s inspector general is launching its own investigation into what the military calls “unidentified aerial phenomena” – better known as UFOs.
In an announcement Monday, the Office of Inspector General said that beginning this month, it will start evaluating “the extent to which the DoD has taken actions regarding unidentified aerial phenomena.”
A memo posted online said the IG will conduct the evaluation at the office of the secretary of Defense, military services, combatant commands, combat support agencies, Defense agencies and military criminal investigative organizations.
Randolph Stone, assistant inspector general for evaluations for space, intelligence, engineering and oversight, said in that memo that the objective may be revised as the evaluation proceeds, and that more locations to be evaluated may be identified.
The IG’s evaluation is now the latest inquiry into the potential existence of UFOs now underway in the Pentagon.
The fiscal 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act, which was passed in December as part of a massive omnibus COVID-19 relief bill, contained a provision that ordered intelligence agencies and the Defense Department to report to lawmakers what they know about unidentified aerial phenomena within six months.
The Pentagon last August also launched a Navy-led task force to track down any encounters service members may have had with aerial objects that could pose a threat to national security.
That move came a few months after the Pentagon officially acknowledged three incidents reported by Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter pilots involving possible UFO sightings. And the Pentagon also confirmed and officially released videos of the incidents, one from November 2004 and two from January 2015, which had been leaked to the public years ago.
But contrary to what “The X-Files” taught us, the story behind military encounters with unidentified flying objects may be more mundane than extraterrestrial visits to Earth.
In April, the website The Drive published an investigation into aerial phenomena that concluded they are most likely drones or other unmanned aircraft, of varying levels of sophistication, that are spying on the US military’s capabilities.
That facility houses between 1,000 and 2,000 Chinese navy personnel, according to various reports. About 12 km away, the US’s Camp Lemonnier military base houses 3,400 personnel.
Analysts say that while the US has always welcomed China’s support for UN peacekeeping operations and anti-piracy efforts in Africa, it is concerned China plans to expand its rights to set up bases, using them to extend its military reach and grow arms sales to African countries.
Luke Patey, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, said whether in Africa or the Arctic, the US did not want to see a challenger upset its dominant global military presence.
“Chinese participating in peacekeeping missions may not turn too many heads at the Pentagon, but China’s Djibouti base has military capabilities that extend far beyond the logistical needs of any peace or humanitarian mission,” Patey said.
US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, leader of US Africa Command, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee on April 20 that China “continues to expand their base in Djibouti into a platform to project power across the continent and its waters – completing a large naval pier this year.”
Townsend said Beijing sought to open more bases, tying their commercial seaport investments in East, West and Southern Africa closely with involvement by Chinese military forces to further their geostrategic interests.
China has not responded to Washington’s latest claims. But last year, when the US Department of Defence alleged in its annual report to Congress that Beijing was planning to set up more military bases in Africa, China’s foreign ministry denied the reports and urged the US to “abandon the outdated Cold War mentality and zero-sum game mindset, stop issuing irresponsible reports year after year.”
Jeffrey Becker, director of the Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Programme at the Centre for Naval Analyses, said that for China establishing a second African base was certainly a possibility as China’s interests in Africa and the surrounding regions continued to grow.
“Places such as Kenya and Tanzania on Africa’s east coast, or Namibia along the Atlantic, have been mentioned as possible locations,” Becker said.
“A second base in Africa would improve China’s ability to conduct a range of operations, including evacuating Chinese citizens in times of crisis and protecting China’s access to key maritime chokepoints in the region, which are critical to China’s trade and energy imports.”
Even if China were to open bases in those countries, Patey said “these plans may still pale in comparison to the hundreds of bases operated by the United States, but if enacted they would still extend China’s military reach far from its mainland and near waters.”
But US concern about China’s security presence in Africa was not especially grounded in national security rationale, according to Samuel Ramani, a tutor in politics and international relations at the University of Oxford in Britain.
Ramani said China and the US broadly supported a stable continental order and neither saw insurgencies or terrorism to their advantage. But Townsend’s comments reflected the US geopolitical rivalry with China and concerns about losing influence to China, Ramani said.
“It is about losing access to oil and mining resources, further erosion of US leverage in the UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] and China gaining more influence, perhaps in concert with Russia, on Indian Ocean security,” Ramani said.
He said Beijing had been cautious about its next moves concerning naval bases in Africa.
“Sao Tome and Principe was rumoured as a naval base in 2018 and there are persistent rumours about Namibia being the site of an army base. Overall though, I see China treading cautiously and not proceeding to establish a base in the near future,” Ramani said.
David Shinn, a former US diplomat and a professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, said the US had always been concerned about the global expansion of the PLA Navy, including its base in Djibouti.
“Over the short and medium term, I expect China will pursue dual-use port facilities in African waters rather than new military bases,” Shinn said. “That is one reason why China is pursuing so many equity investments in African ports.”
John Calabrese, director of the Middle East-Asia Project, said the US had been encouraging China’s participation in peacekeeping as a means of showing that it was indeed a “responsible stakeholder.” But he said potential concerns included the proliferation of weapons and the possible acquisition of basing rights.
Calabrese said China’s sudden need to evacuate thousands of expatriate workers from Libya during the Arab spring drove home the need for China to develop the capacity to protect its far-flung overseas interests and assets.
Further, Calabrese said the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative extended and deepened Chinese commercial activities in the zone around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa domain in East Africa, justifying the need for a military presence in and around critical waterways and choke points at the Western extremity of the Maritime Silk Road.
Besides making baby steps as a blue-water navy, China is a key player in the UN-led peacekeeping missions in Africa, known as the blue helmets. The number of Chinese peacekeepers in Africa peaked at 2,620 in 2015 and then declined to about 2,100.
Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, said “there is a longer-term worry that Beijing could use its peacekeeping deployments as an excuse for building up military bases in Africa, ostensibly to support the blue helmets.”
However, he said Western fears about China’s peacekeeping ambitions were overstated and that “China has adopted a fairly cautious approach to UN deployments since 2017 when it suffered fatalities in Mali and South Sudan.”
“China’s single biggest UN deployment is in South Sudan, where it has an infantry battalion. This is, of course, in part linked to China’s energy interests there,” Gowan said.
Once the Kettering reached its target, its wings would fall off, the engine would stop, and the craft would fall to the ground with a 180-pound explosive. But the missile had a lot issues and the war ended before it saw combat.
China is sending rescue vessels to help retrieve the Indonesian submarine that sunk with the loss of all 53 crew members.
Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman for the defence ministry, said late on Friday that the ships had been sent upon the invitation of Indonesian government and they were heading for the Lombok Strait to help recover the KRI Nanggala 402, which went missing last Wednesday when taking part in a torpedo drill.
Citing an unnamed Chinese submarine expert, the state-owned tabloid Global Times said the rescue mission could also help China “study the maritime military geography of the area where the submarine was wrecked, as well as expanding the international cooperation and influence of our navy in submarine rescue and salvage.”
While the statement did not give further details of the ships the Chinese military has sent, the Indonesian Navy Information Service said in a statement on Saturday that three Chinese salvage ships, including a Type 925 rescue ship Yongxingdao, were expected to reach the waters off Bali where the sub was lost within days and would join its counterparts from Indonesia, the US, Australia Malaysia, Singapore and India in the recovery efforts.
On Friday, Indonesian navy chief Yudo Margono said the local authorities were waiting for the arrival of two ships, including one from China, that are equipped to handle deep-sea salvage operations.
China has been building up its own submarine rescue fleet after one of its vessels sank during an exercise in the Yellow Sea in April 2003 with the loss of all 70 crew members – one of the Chinese military’s worst peacetime disasters.
There has been speculation that China may also send one of its most advanced Type 926 supply and rescue ships, the Liugongdao, which is currently with the South Sea Fleet, to Indonesia to help with the salvage operations.
The vessel is equipped with a British-made deep-submergence rescue vehicle and a remotely operated underwater vehicle that can operate at a depth of 1,000 metres, Global Times reported.
While China’s submarine rescue ships have taken part in international exercises in the past, it will be the first time it has taken place in an international recovery mission of this sort.
Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor and military analyst, said the “highly challenging operation” could provide valuable experience for the future and would offer the opportunity to study the topography of the seabed that “would be beneficial to the navy.”
The US Air Force is sending its new F-15EX fourth-plus generation fighter to participate in a large-scale exercise in and around Alaska next month.
The 53rd Wing out of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, announced Thursday that the F-15EX, now known as the Eagle II, will conduct operational tests while flying in Exercise Northern Edge 21, a joint Indo-Pacific Command drill incorporating approximately 15,000 service members from each branch, multiple Navy ships and roughly 240 aircraft.
“The unique range assets in place at Northern Edge provide a different, unfamiliar, complex, and operationally realistic environment for the technology and the tactics we’re testing,” said Lt. Col. Mike Benitez, 53rd Wing director of staff, in a news release. The service’s first two F-15EX fighters belong to the 53rd as they undergo test and evaluation. The Boeing-made jets were delivered to the Air Force earlier this month.
The wing will also test other equipment during the exercise, such as the Infrared Search and Track sensor pod on the F-15C model and communication node gateways on the U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane, the release states.
In a discussion with the Air Force Association this week, Lt. Gen. David Krumm, Pacific Air Forces’ 11th Air Force commander, said the F-15EX will try out its Eagle Passive/Active Warning Survivability System, an advanced electronic warfare technology designed to increase its threat assessment and survivability.
Aircraft will fly within the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, which encompasses more than 77,000 square miles of airspace. Pilots often practice aggressor training there – simulating friendly “blue air” against enemy fighters in advanced air-to-air training.
Ships and aircraft, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, will operate in the Gulf of Alaska for the exercise, the release adds.
The Air Force is in the process of building up its fighter fleet at Eielson, including the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing version, to support missions in both the Pacific and Arctic. A total of 54 F-35s are scheduled to arrive at Eielson by December 2021.
Major units participating in the exercise include the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and Carrier Air Wing 11; the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit; the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, from Elmendorf-Richardson; 17th Field Artillery Brigade from Lewis-McChord; and the 3rd Expeditionary Air and Space Task Force.
“Typically, training happens within your units, within your services, but you never really get the volume or the complexity you would expect to see in a modern-day conflict,” said Lt. Col. Mike Boyer, Pacific Air Forces Northern Edge lead planner, in the release.
“Northern Edge allows the joint force to put all the pieces of the puzzle together in the big picture and allows our younger generation within the armed forces to experience what future conflict could feel like in the complexities associated with it,” he said.
WPR: By now, most everyone is familiar with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which are decentralized. And of course, digital payments have become pretty much ubiquitous. But I think it’s fair to say that the concept of a central bank digital currency has yet to seep into the mainstream. So could you first enlighten us about how China’s new digital currency works – what it is and what it’s not?
Yaya Fanusie: As you said, people are used to Bitcoin and people know a lot about digital payments, because we all pay for things digitally. But a central bank digital currency is something a little bit different. Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency that no one controls; it’s independent of any government and anyone can participate.
Digital payments, as we know them, basically involve private banking infrastructure where private banks have central bank money, and then they allow you to transact, but it’s really their infrastructure that you’re participating with. So, you have a relationship with that private bank. You don’t really have a relationship with the central bank.
But now, with the advancement of technology, governments see Bitcoin and are expressing interest in it, because Bitcoin solves some interesting problems around how to move value digitally. Central bankers also see that private companies are really involved in people’s commerce and everyday transactions.
This is especially the case in China, which has wanted to figure out a way to have a digital currency that was run by the central bank. So, not like Bitcoin, which is independent and decentralized.
Beijing was concerned about the digital payment space, which you may know is very big in China. The central bank has felt that private digital payment companies are way too powerful. So years ago, they started to think about how they could create infrastructure where the money is actually digital, but it is run by the central bank. Now, what does that look like? We don’t know the details.
In fact, the central bank has been pretty clear that a lot of this is still being worked out. But what we do know the general framework: The People’s Bank of China is going to create the digital currency, and then it’s going to distribute it to banks and to private companies. Those banks and companies will basically have wallets, they’ll have software, and people will transact with the digital currency through those wallets.
But the big difference is that unlike regular digital payments, the thing that they’re transacting with is going to be the central bank money itself, digitally. Not just the applications that they were transacting with through the private companies.
WPR: How far along is China’s digital Yuan relative to similar initiatives in other countries? Because this isn’t something that China is alone in working on, right?
Fanusie: Lots of governments are actually looking at exploring and researching the idea of a central bank digital currency. They’re looking at the pros and the cons, but China is probably the foremost of big economies in terms of actually developing something. They started researching back in 2014, and then roughly a year or so ago, they actually got to the point of doing trials.
What they’ve done over the past few months is they’ve distributed this digital currency via a lottery system to certain citizens in certain cities. And they’ve given them the equivalent of, let’s say, 31 US dollars in the digital yuan, or digital renminbi. They have actually just done these trials – I think it’s maybe half a dozen or more cities that are participating – and I think millions of dollars worth of this currency has transacted over the past few months.
They’ve also taken certain municipal government workers and they’ve allowed them to get some of their salaries paid in this digital currency.
So, I’d say it’s relatively far along, but the key milestone that China is looking at is the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing next February. The government is saying that they would like to roll out more of this digital currency by then. Not that it will be out universal, but that’s certainly a milestone that they’re looking towards.
WPR: I believe I’ve read some testimonials of people who have been selected for this lottery, and they’ve said that the currency is pretty easy to use and that they like the utility of it so far.
Fanusie: Yeah, I think so. And that’s probably because it’s not that different than mobile payments that they’re already using, since most people in China are not using cash that much. They’re already using digital payments, so it’s possible that for them, it doesn’t make that much of a difference. But for the central bank, it makes a big difference.
You may wonder, if it’s not so different for the consumer, why would the central bank want to do this? Well, the reason is that it’s really about data, and there are a couple of ways to look at this. One is maybe a very positive way, and one is a little bit more cynical.
When you have a central bank digital currency, if you’re a central bank, what this means is that if you create the currency, as people transact, you can actually observe the data. You can have insight as to when people are spending and what’s happening. How much is this currency circulating? What happens when you implement a certain monetary policy? How does that change consumer spending?
The data is available, because people are using the currency that is connected to your infrastructure. In today’s digital payments, that access doesn’t exist. Let’s take an example from the US, with Square or Venmo. All of those transactions are happening, but the government here in the US doesn’t have access to that data immediately. There’s a multilayered process where companies would report back to the government.
But in China, the digital currency is going to allow for a lot more collection of data, which goes with the Chinese Communist Party’s desire to have a more data-driven economy, to collect more data and to use it for monetary policy, but to also to use it for analysis and even surveillance.
WPR: It’s incredible to think about because China’s already such an advanced surveillance state, probably the most advanced in the world. What kind of new data do you think Beijing would be able to collect with this digital currency?
Fanusie: Some of it is new data, but probably most of it is not necessarily new. It is the efficiency of collecting the data. What is different is that we’re talking either real time or near-real time observance of people’s spending. In the current system, obviously the Chinese government is strong, and it can go to companies – and it does – and say, “Hey, show us the transactions of person X, or company X, and hand over this information to us.”
That’s how the government gets its access to financial data now. But what would be different is that the government wouldn’t necessarily have to go to all these different banks and all these different companies to compel them to hand over the information. The payment instrument that people would be using would be within their data house, in a sense.
The Chinese government is now saying that it’s going to anonymize this data, which I wouldn’t take at face value. But even so, the big plus for them is going to be that they’ll be able to see all of these transactions happening, even individual wallets. Whoever is using this, their activity will be seen in at least real time, or maybe relative real time. This is access that doesn’t exist anywhere.
As much as people think about big brother, and they think that they’re always being watched by their government, it’s honestly just not possible technologically for governments to track everyone’s digital payments in real time. because the infrastructure is set up in such a bifurcated way. So this is a huge barrier breaker in terms of collecting financial transaction data.
One thing I should probably also mention is that what this also does is it gives the Chinese government more levers to pull. If the government has access to this digital currency and it’s held with the central bank, you’d be transacting with it, but it’s really a central bank instrument that you’re holding and that you’re transacting in.
If you think a few steps in advance, I think what this means logically is that it would be easier for the central bank to turn off access to that. Right now either the government has to go to companies and say, “Block off this person, close their account.”
But I think the way this is going to work is that they’ll have centralized access. They’ll be able to say, “All these digital Yuan, let’s make them inactive.” Or, “Let’s stop transactions from being able to go into these particular wallets,” or “these particular digital bank nodes are going to be null and void.”
Logically, I think that’s what this infrastructure is going to lend itself to. It then gives the government maybe more power to influence citizens, to take punitive measures and to even look at party members and see exactly how they’re spending. There are lots of implications for domestic control that this technology lends itself to.
WPR: It wasn’t long ago that digital payments and digital currencies were being viewed as maybe one of the best tools to fight corruption in the world, given that with each payment, there was a digital footprint that could be traced. But I don’t remember anyone at the time saying, hold on a second, let’s take a step back and imagine what might happen if one centralized authority is able to collect and monitor all of this data at the same time around people’s payments.
Fanusie: It’s funny, because that sentiment has actually been growing in private circles, especially in the tech community, because of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. These decentralized cryptocurrencies are usually public, and all of the transactions can be read and accessed on a public online ledger.
So even though it’s pseudo-anonymous, people can look at a Bitcoin wallet or a Bitcoin address and they can see all the transactions. There’s really no barrier, they just don’t necessarily know who is making the transactions.
For a while, a lot of people have been concerned that if you attach identities to the Bitcoin blockchain, then that could really ruin privacy. Because if you know my address, now you can look and you can see how much I’m spending. You could see how much is in my account. So, there’s actually been a push for privacy within the cryptocurrency community.
What’s interesting is that now that central banks are thinking of a digital currency, even though it’s not going to be public, there is maybe even more of a concern about privacy. If a central bank has a digital currency and all these transactions are on a record, then that central bank could track and maybe see your transactions forever, depending on how you’re going to design this and what privacy safeguards you put in place.
There are all these concerns that the government could have access to someone’s past, present and future transactions, depending on how they design privacy in a central bank digital currency. So, this issue is not going away.
Despite a few successes early in World War II, Japanese armor was hopelessly outclassed by Allied tanks as soon as they arrived in large numbers.
Those experiences and the threat of a Soviet invasion led the Japanese to put much more effort into post-war tank designs. By the 1990s, Japan had a large and capable armored force.
But the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) has had to recalibrate in recent decades.
The threat from a rising China has forced Japan’s Ground Self Defense Force (GSDF) to shift from an armor- and artillery-intensive force based in its north – where it would’ve responded to a Soviet invasion – to a more mobile one able to reach southwestern Japan at a moment’s notice.
To do this, the JSDF is making a number of changes, including investing heavily in transportation capability, new armored vehicle designs, and reforming the GSDF’s tank arm.
Fending off the Soviets
Japan’s tank force was actually quite modern and innovative during its development between the world wars. But while Germany and the Allies had the industrial capacity to update or create new tanks during World War II, Japan’s industry was comparatively limited.
Moreover, since Japanese plans in that war involved pushing south into areas where massive tank battles were unlikely, most funding and resources went to its navy and air services.
After the war, Japan – now with access to Western technology and designs and convinced of the importance of tanks – focused much more on developing a capable armored force to fend off the Soviets.
For most of the Cold War, Japan’s tank force was made up of the Type 61 and Type 74 main battle tanks, armed with 90 mm and 105 mm guns, respectively. They were both capable designs for their time and were fielded in large numbers.
In 1990, the GSDF introduced the Type 90. At 50 tons and with a 120 mm gun, it is by all accounts a first-rate tank. Equipped with modular composite armor, a laser rangefinder, fire-control computer, thermal and night vision, and an autoloader, it is similar to Germany’s Leopard 2A4.
The Japanese believed Hokkaido, the northernmost of the home islands and the closest to Soviet territory, would be the frontline of any invasion, and most of Japan’s tanks were stationed there.
By 1976, the GSDF had some 1,200 tanks and about 1,000 artillery pieces, mostly in Hokkaido, where much of that armored force is still stationed.
Lighter and more mobile
The threat of Russian invasion was virtually nonexistent after the Cold War, and the JSDF decided to cut down on the overall number of tanks, which fell from about 900 in service in 1995 to about 570 now.
The JSDF plans to reduce the total to 300 in the coming years.
Introduced in 2012, the Type 10 is meant to replace the Type 74 and compliment the Type 90.
At 48 tons fully loaded, the Type 10 is lighter and more maneuverable than the Type 90. Whereas the Type 90’s size limits it to operating in Hokkaido and around Mt. Fuji, the Type 10 can operate anywhere Japanese law allows.
The Type 10 has modular ceramic composite armor with nano-crystal steel. The modules can be added or removed depending on mission or damage. It also has a 120 mm gun and an auto loader.
The electronics suite is perhaps the Type 10’s most impressive feature, with an advanced command-and-control system that allows it to communicate and share information with nearby JGSDF tanks and units.
The Type 16 was introduced a few years after the Type 10. Although it is wheeled, it has a tank turret and functions as a light tank, conducting close combat, counterattacks, and direct-fire infantry support.
Armed with a 105 mm rifled gun and weighing just 26 tons, the Type 16 can operate safely on Japan’s entire road network and be carried in Air Self Defense Force aircraft.
A new southern threat
Adopting lighter tanks may seem counterintuitive, but it actually fits perfectly within the force the JSDF is building – one capable of dealing with the new threat posed to Japan’s southwest by China.
“As we got farther from the Cold War and different threats arose, Japan started to shift overall defense thinking about where the real threat is emanating from,” said Jeffrey Hornung, an expert on Japanese security and foreign policies at the RAND Corporation.
“It starts to crystallize, really in the last decade, decade and a half, [to] where it’s the China threat,” Hornung told Insider.
That threat is primarily in the air and at sea, and centers on the Senkaku Islands, which Japan administers but China claims, calling them the Diaoyu Islands.
Japanese leaders believe that since China is not trying to export global revolution like the Soviet Union and is focused on just the Senkakus, a large-scale ground invasion of its home islands is unlikely.
“They don’t anticipate China doing any sort of amphibious invasion of Japanese territory, and so in that environment they don’t see a need for the heavy artillery and tanks.” Hornung said.
“Instead, they see that you have all these islands in the southwest island chain that if the GSDF are going to be involved in, they have to rapidly get there, and they have to have the capability to fight in that environment,” Hornung added.
It is also acquiring more transportable armored vehicles and artillery systems, emphasizing anti-ship and anti-air capability, and buying V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to help transport its soldiers.
But the GSDF still faces problems – namely its lack of sealift capacity.
Despite the main threat seen as facing Japan’s southwest islands, half of the GSDFs rapidly deployable basic operational units are still based in Hokkaido.
While the Type 16 can be deployed by air, the Type 90 and Type 10 would have to be transported by sea. The majority of its soldiers and hardware would also likely need to be deployed by ship, especially if they are headed to Japan’s outer islands.
The only vessels capable of such tasks that Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force has are its three Ōsumi-class tank landing ships. Japan plans to acquire three new transport vessels by 2024, but these are considerably smaller, and the total number of capable vessels would remain dangerously low.
“They developed these [rapid deployment] capabilities without more coordination on the airlift and sealift from the other services that’s required, and that’s where there’s a problem,” Hornung said.
Puerto Rico is seeing a surge in cocaine seizures, indicating that drug flows are being reactivated after months of dormancy amid pandemic lockdowns and that the island is on track to tally a record drug haul in 2021.
The latest seizure occurred on April 17, when the United States Coast Guard intercepted a speedboat traveling along the coast of Aguadilla that was carrying 400 kilograms of cocaine, El Nuevo Día reported.
According to Puerto Rican authorities, the total amount of cocaine seized was up by nearly half year-on-year through March and 64% through mid-April.
On April 8, Puerto Rico tallied a record cocaine haul, according to the Associated Press. Puerto Rican Police Commissioner Antonio López reported the seizure of 2.4 tons, valued at $50 million. López explained that the drugs were being transported in speedboats off the southeastern town of Yabucoa.
One month beforehand, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported the seizure of almost two tons of cocaine, also in Yabucoa.
According to InSight Crime’s press monitoring, around six tons of cocaine have been seized from January to late April along the island’s Caribbean Coast. This compares to 15.6 tons for 2019, already one of the highest totals on record, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In its most recent National Drug Threat Assessment, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) mentioned that Puerto Rico is used as a transit point by Dominican, Colombian and Venezuelan drug traffickers, as well as Mexico’s Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG).
The island offers strategic value for traffickers moving drugs to the United States due to its status as a US territory. Once the drug shipments enter Puerto Rico, they are more easily transported to the continental United States, as Puerto Ricans can transit freely and do not have to go through customs controls.
InSight Crime analysis
Puerto Rican authorities believe that the spike in cocaine transiting the island is due to the months of restrictions on transit amid the pandemic, the testing of new trafficking routes and the backlog of accumulated drugs.
“[Due to the confinement], drug traffickers had difficulties in moving merchandise. The consequence may have been that the drugs accumulated and they are looking for ways to enter the drugs,” Lt. Felícita Coreano, director of the Puerto Rico’s United Rapid Action Force (Fuerzas Unidas de Rápida Acción – FURA), told El Nuevo Día.
According to the DEA, cocaine shipments enter Puerto Rico almost entirely by sea. The shipments are mostly sent by speedboats and fishing vessels from Colombia and Venezuela. These boats usually make a stop in the Dominican Republic, where the drugs are collected by criminal networks who then move them to other destinations, including Puerto Rico.
However, in its latest report, the DEA warned of a new speedboat route directly connecting Venezuela to Puerto Rico and bypassing the Dominican Republic. This route could be behind the increasingly large shipments found in the US territory.
“[The drug traffickers] are looking to expand and find new shipping routes,” Habib Massari, a drug policy expert in Puerto Rico, told El Nuevo Día.
Investigations conducted by InSight Crime in the Caribbean indicate that a number of criminal networks in Puerto Rico provide logistical services for international traffickers, especially Dominican groups.
Dominican groups are responsible for coordinating drug shipments from Puerto Rico to the United States - particularly to northeastern states – via shipping containers, messenger services, private planes and “mules.”
China’s newly commissioned nuclear-powered submarine is armed with the country’s most powerful submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capable of hitting the US mainland, according to a military source and analysts.
The Type 094A, or Jin-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), was presented last Friday as part of the celebration to mark the 72nd anniversary of the PLA Navy. It was capable of firing the JL-3, or Julang (Big Wave) SLBM with a range over 10,000km (6,200 miles), a source close to the navy said.
“The Type 094A is an upgraded version of the Type 094 that overcame one of the key problems – noise – by improving hydrokinetic and turbulent systems, allowing it to carry the more powerful JL-3,” said the source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
“Before the upgrade, the submarine was armed with the inferior JL-2 that could only hit the northeast United States, but now it’s able to cover the whole American continent.”
According to Forbes, before entering striking distance of the continental United States, the Type 094A subs would have to slip past a cordon of US military bases in the Pacific dubbed the first island chain – exposing the subs to detection and attack by American P-8 anti-sub patrol planes, surface warships and other undersea reconnaissance capabilities.
Chinese submarines have been dogged by the problem of being too noisy and easy to detect but that has largely been remedied in recent years by Chinese naval engineer Rear Adm. Ma Weiming, who is now taking the lead in a cutting-edge propulsion technology, according to state media.
The JL-3 is able to deliver the same multiple warheads, including nuclear warheads like the JL-2 does, the source added without giving more detail.
Each JL-2 missile can be armed with either a single megaton-yield warhead 67 times more powerful than the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima – or three to eight smaller multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) that can each strike different targets, according to a Forbes report in May last year.
Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Tong said the news indicated that some technical breakthroughs had been achieved to make the JL-2 fit the silos of the Type 094A.
“The original design and size of the JL-3 should be adjusted, but those changes do not reduce its firepower and range – a significant breakthrough,” Wong said.
Former PLA instructor Song Zhongping did not say what type of SLBM the Type 094A was armed with but said it would boost China’s second-strike capability – its ability to retaliate after a nuclear strike.
“The new SLBM with MIRVs with a firing range over 10,000km is the basic technical requirement for an upgraded Type 094 SSBN to cause nuclear deterrence,” he said. “China promises not to use a nuke first but a powerful SSBN fleet will help the PLA strengthen their second-strike power against rivals.”
China has six Type 094 and Type 094A SSBNs and plans to build a further two to replace the Type 092 SSBNs, according to the source.
Sources said last year that the PLA planned to arm the Type 096 submarine with JL-3 missiles, a process that could take years to complete.
Each Type 094 submarine is able to carry 16 JL-3 missiles, but the upgraded Type 096 could carry 24 JL-3s, according to a Pentagon report on China’s military capabilities.
The Type 094A was one of the three new warships put into service on the same day. The others were the Type 075 amphibious helicopter assault ship and the Type 055 Renhai-class guided missile cruiser.
Marines scored a direct hit in a first-ever live-fire test in which they launched a Navy missile from the back of an unmanned tactical vehicle to strike a surface target at sea.
The Marine Corps has combined two existing technologies to produce a deadly new way to hit targets offshore. Coined NMESIS, the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System can launch Naval Strike Missiles from the back of a modified Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, to destroy targets on land or at sea.
Raytheon Missiles and Defense, which makes the Naval Strike Missile, announced Wednesday that the Marine Corps used NMESIS to hit a target in the water from Point Mugu Sea Range in California. The missile can take out targets from more than 100 nautical miles away.
Commandant Gen. David Berger showed a photo of the test launch to lawmakers Thursday when discussing the need for funding for ground-based anti-ship missiles. He called the test the result of the “brilliance of a couple of young officers” and Oshkosh Defense, a Wisconsin-based company that makes the JLTV.
“The people at Oshkosh and these couple of majors thought, ‘We can do this,’ so they took the cab off the back and they put a missile in the back with a fire-control system,” Berger said. “Now, we can move this around on vessels or put it ashore and hold an adversary’s navy at risk … to ensure that the lines on the sea are kept open.
“This is the speed at which we have to move,” he added.
Getting funding for ground-based long-range precision fires out of the next budget will be crucial for the Marine Corps’ mission, Berger told lawmakers. He wrote in his 2019 planning guidance that the service had fallen “woefully behind” in the development of ground-based long-range precision fires.
“We must possess the ability to turn maritime spaces into barriers so we can attack an adversary’s sea lines of communication … while defending our own in support of the Fleet or Joint Force,” Berger wrote.
In 2021, the Marine Corps requested $125 million to buy nearly 50 Tomahawk missiles it could launch from land. Congress ultimately did not fund the move. Adm. Phil Davidson, the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, told lawmakers in March that the decision to slash those funds hurt the military’s ability to deter China.
The JLTV used in the test at Point Mugu is an unmanned version known as a ROGUE – or remotely operated ground unit for expeditionary – fires vehicle. The Naval Strike Missile fired from the back carries a 500-pound class warhead, according to Raytheon. The Navy uses the missile on littoral combat ships.
Combined, the missile and ROGUE fires vehicle form NMESIS, which is operated by artillery Marines, Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, the deputy commandant of Combat Development and Integration, told reporters this month.
Berger said using a modified JLTV and a proven strike missile gives commanders flexibility since they can fire the munition from a ship or ashore.
“It’s the same missile, so as needed, the commander can move the ordnance where it’s needed most,” he said. “… [It also] speeds up our ability to field it. It’s a proven missile. … This is not a new missile system – we know how it performs. So we’re riding on the backs of something that is already developed and putting it on a platform that we’re very confident in.”