Russia, Philippines sign contract for delivery of RPG-7B grenade launchers

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CLARK /Philippines/, October 24. /TASS/. Moscow and Manila have signed a contract for the delivery of the Russian-made RPG-7B grenade launchers and ammunition to the Philippines.

The contract was signed by Russia’s Rosoboronexport CEO Alexander Mikheyev and Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana in the presence of Russian Defense Minister Army General Sergey Shoigu.

The signing ceremony took place in the Philippines’ Clark, where the fourth meeting of defense ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states and dialogue partners is being held.

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Rila MRAP enters production

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The International Armored Group (IAG) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has confirmed to Jane’s that it has secured an export order for its latest 4x4 Rila mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) with production already underway.

As with all IAG wheeled armoured vehicles, the Rila MRAP has been developed using internal research and development funding.

IAG briefed Jane’s that the Rila MRAP is based on an Italian Iveco Trakker chassis, which is fitted with an all welded monocoque steel armour hull with the lower part being the traditional V-hull type.

Ballistic protection level can be configured to the end user’s requirements but according to IAG, this can be to STANAG 4569 Level II, III, or IV standard through a full 360° as well as the roof of the vehicle.

Blast protection against mines and improvised explosive devices (IED) is stated to be STANAG 4569 Level 3a, 3b, or 4a.

The vehicle is powered by a 6-cylinder 12.6 litre turbocharged inline diesel developing 380 hp coupled to an automatic transmission.

Suspension is of the leaf spring type with telescopic shock absorbers and run-flat tyres are fitted as standard with the option of a central tyre inflation system for improved cross-country mobility.

Gross vehicle weight is currently being quoted as 18,000 kg, of which 4,500 kg is available for crew accommodation, fuel, weapons, and mission equipment. It is fitted with a 12 V or 24 V electrical system.

Seating arrangements can be configured for specific customer requirements but is typically commander and driver to the rear of the engine compartment and 10 dismounts seated five down either side at the rear facing inwards.

All crew members are provided with blast attenuating seats with a headrest and five-point harness. The seats can accommodate personnel wearing ballistic protection and hydration packs.

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Reaper operations ramp up in France

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The sole French General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9 Reaper based in France has taken part in its first international close air support exercise, ‘Serpentex 2017’, above Corsica in the last month.

France’s MQ-9s have operated out of Niamey, Niger, for Operation ‘Barkhane’ since 2014, but the first domestically based French MQ-9 only began flying out of Air Force Base 709, its home base in Cognac, southwestern France, on 6 July.

The Reaper flying out of Cognac is controlled by a French landing and recovery element (LRE), although, as in Niamey, GA-ASI provides the ground maintenance element.

Exercise ‘Serpentex’, which took place from 11-29 September this year, trains joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) from several NATO countries to conduct close air support missions, with the French Reaper used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) duties and to lase targets on the exercise’s range. The Reapers flown during Operation ‘Barkhane’ have been used to ‘buddy-lase’ precision-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles launched from Mirage strike aircraft and Tiger HAD helicopters respectively.

An average of one Reaper mission per day is launched from Cognac for Exercise ‘Serpentex’. The unmanned aerial vehicle’s (UAV’s) transit from Cognac to Corsica involves a three-hour flight at an average speed of 180–210 kt along a specific military air corridor, which is activated specifically for the duration of the flight.

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Fishermen on Senkaku Islands: Why Do Japanese Have To Withdraw From Japanese Territory?

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September 11 marked the 5th anniversary of the nationalization of the Senkaku Islands (part of Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture) that had previously been privately owned.

Since then, China Coast Guard ships sailing through the waters around the islands have become the norm, and China has boasted that it has broken de facto Japanese control of the islands. In addition, the ships entering the waters around the islands have increased their military capability, and there have been repeated incursions. 

In February 2016, in response to the incursions, the Japan Coast Guard set up the Senkaku Security Unit. However, confrontations between the safety agency and Chinese ships are continuing, and even now local fishermen cannot approach the fertile fishing grounds surrounding the islands.

Although the islands and waters around Senkaku are Japanese territory, the incursions have prevented the Japanese from exploiting the resources. “How long is this situation going to continue,” the fishermen and residents of Ishigaki ask.

Japanese authorities say, “We are headed for a long conflict.”

Five years ago, when the huge number of Chinese Coast Guard ships first appeared, the command of the Japan Coast Guard expressed readiness to provide security for the islands. At that time, China was strengthening its de facto control over the South China Sea, and it was anticipated that they would try to do the same with the Senkaku Islands. 

From early on the Japan Coast Guard modeled the creation of a special security unit for the islands and worked steadily to respond. Moreover, in addition to the continual procession of Chinese government ships, the frequency of provocative acts has increased. About two years ago, the Chinese dispatched government ships armed with machines guns. Their oceanographic research vessels have been conducting surveys repeatedly without permission.

According to the Japan Coast Guard, a total of 643 Chinese government ships have made incursions into the waters around the Senkaku Islands since these were nationalized in September of 2012.

In this context, it cannot be said that the security provisions of the Japan Coast Guard are fully adequate, and there is a need for support above and beyond the special unit for the Senkaku Islands.

The Japan Coast Guard command warns of an impending crisis: “If there are accidents or incidents other than those involving the Senkaku Islands, it will be difficult to dispatch ships in response. It really feels like we are treading on thin ice.”

Chinese Take Over Fishing Grounds

Fishermen in Ishigaki can only sigh over the ongoing situation that shows no sign of resolution. “We certainly do not want the situation where we cannot work to continue indefinitely,” said Yasumasa Higa, 60, former head of the Okinawa Prefecture Association of Fishermen.

The area around the Senkaku Islands is a singularly good fishing ground because the Japan Current (Kuroshio) brings plankton that serves as food and makes the waters a gathering place for high value fish, such as hamadai (etelis). The waters are also known as a spawning ground for blue fin tuna. 

Unfortunately, after the nationalization of the area, not just Chinese government vessels but Chinese fishing boats have pushed into the waters around the Senkaku Islands.

Japanese fishermen have had to contend with 3,000-ton-class Chinese ships that pursue the much smaller Japanese fishing boats, and with Chinese fishing boats that cut Japanese nets. To avoid trouble, the Japanese fishermen have been forced to move to other areas to fish.

Hitoshi Nakama, 67, a member of the Ishigaki municipal council who serves as patron of the Association to Protect the Senkaku Islands, says: “China is doing whatever it wants. If this ends with de facto control like Takeshima (Liancourt Rocks, held by South Korea, and called Dokdo or Tokdo in Korean), the situation will only get worse.”

Our Territory Is Being Taken

Adding to the conflict over possession of the Senkaku Islands is the Japan-Taiwan Fisheries Agreement concluded in April 2013. This was intended to check Chinese-Taiwan joint fishing operations by recognizing the right of Taiwanese fishing boats to operate in the waters around the Senkaku Islands but Chinese-Taiwanese fishing vessels have taken advantage of the latitude in the agreement.

“We had to withdraw in the face of an onslaught of Chinese-Taiwanese fishing boats. While the Senkaku Islands are and have been Japanese territory, why is it that we are the ones who have to exercise self-restraint and withdraw?” Higa lamented.

At the same time, Japan has not stationed government officials on the islands, and has not engaged in the construction of berths for ships. It has followed a foreign policy of avoiding actions that provoke China.

However, if the situation continues to worsen, there is concern that Japanese control of the Senkaku Islands will be further weakened.

At the end of July, Study Times, the house organ of the Central Party School that trains the Chinese Communist Party cadres, published an article celebrating the accomplishments of Xi Jingping, president of China and the Chinese Communist Party. 

With respect to the Senkaku Islands, it emphasized, “In the fall of 2013, he declared an air defense control area for the South China Sea and in one stroke brought an end to the long standing ‘de facto control’ by Japan through the regular dispatch of patrol flights.”

President Xi Jingping has stated his intent to make China “a powerful maritime nation.” Through the dispatch of ever more heavily-armed patrol vessels, it appears that he will be increasing the pressure on Japan.

On Uotsurishima, the shrubs that cover the island are withering due to foraging by goats. Nakama plans to put forward a resolution at the regular municipal assembly session scheduled for September, asking for a ground survey. 

“Nationalization in and of itself was a good idea but it’s about time for development to begin. It’s necessary to break out of this situation where even the local residents can not get close to the islands,” he said.

The islands are approximately 440 kilometers from the main island of Okinawa and 330 kilometers from the Chinese mainland. The group includes Uotsurishima, Kitakojima, Minamikojima, Kubashima, and  Taishoto. The surrounding territorial waters and connected area are similar in shape to the island of Shikoku and about the same area. The islands became a Japanese possession in 1895. On September 11, 2012, in order to provide for their stable management, the Japanese government nationalized three islands: Uotsurishima, Kitakojima, and Minamikojima. In 1971, China began asserting that the islands were Chinese territory.

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Get Ready: China Could Build New Artificial Islands Near India

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There are growing fears, particularly in India, that China may soon launch an island reclamation project in the Indian Ocean.
The fears stem from a constitutional amendment passed by the small archipelagic nation of Maldives last week, which for the first time allows foreign ownership of Maldives territory. Specifically, the constitutional amendment allows foreigners who invest over $1 billion to own land, provided that at least 70 percent of the land is reclaimed from the sea.
Since July 2013, China has launched a massive reclamation project in the South China Sea that has created 2,000 acres of artificial landmass in five Spratly island outposts. Some 75 percent of this been dredged this year alone.
Unnamed Indian officials have told local media outlets that they are “concerned” that China now plans to do the same in some of the Maldives’ 1,200 islands, which are located strategically in the Indian Ocean.   
They are not alone; domestic opponents of the amendment have expressed similar concerns. For example, Eva Abdullah, one of just 14 parliamentarians to vote against the amendment, told The Diplomat “this will make the country a Chinese colony.”
She elaborated by saying, “what I fear is that we are paving the way for the establishment of Chinese bases in the Maldives and making the country a frontline state between India and China, thereby disturbing the current balance of power in the Indian Ocean. We cannot ignore the increasing rivalry between India and China.”
Maldivian and Chinese officials have sought to temper such fears, however. In a statement given to Reuters, China’s Foreign Ministry said that Beijing “has always respected and supported the Maldives' efforts to maintain its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”
The statement added that “what the relevant people said about China building bases in the Maldives is totally baseless.” China has claimed that it will never build oversea military bases.
Maldives President Abdulla Yameen has similarly dismissed fears that China will reclaim the islands and use them for military purposes. In a public address, Yameen said: “The Maldivian government has given assurances to the Indian government and our neighboring countries as well to keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarized zone.” 
Vice President Ahmed Adeeb echoed Yameen in an interview with The Hindu this week, saying: “Our sovereignty is not on offer… We don’t want to give any of our neighbors, including India..any cause for concern. We don’t want to be in a position when we become a threat to our neighbors.”
While the Indian government appears to have officially accepted Maldives’ assurances, others are more skeptical.
Anand Kumar, an analyst the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA), noted “The constitution has been amended for the benefit of the Chinese. It is only China which has capacity to acquire 70 percent of the land.”
Others were alarmed at how fast the constitutional amendment was approved. Indian sources have noted to local media outlets that the legislative process in Maldives often takes weeks and months. By contrast, one Indian source tells the Indian Express that “the parliamentary panel reviewed and approved the Bill within just one hour… that raises alarm bells.”
Even before the new constitutional amendment was passed, India had been growing increasingly concerned with Maldives, a country that it considers to be in its sphere of influence. Earlier this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled a planned trip to Maldives after prominent members of the opposition, including former president Mohamed Nasheed, were jailed by the Yameen administration.
Similarly, even before the new amendment was proposed, Indian officials were alarmed by Maldives’ growing ties with China since President Yameen assumed power in November 2013. China has been investing heavily in Maldives in recent years as part of its Maritime Silk Road initiative.
Notably, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a state visit to Maldives last year, where he promised further investment, including in the Male International Airport. Chinese tourism to Maldives has also grown steadily in recent years, providing a hefty economic sum for the small nation.
China has also been trying to make inroads with other coastal South Asian nations like Sri Lanka as part of what many fear is Beijing’s “String of Pearls” strategy for the Indian Ocean.

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'PH failed to detect signs that led to Marawi' – expert

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The Marawi crisis 'is a failure of government to act based on sound and timely intelligence,' terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says

MANILA, Philippines – Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna criticized the Philippine government Friday, September 22, for failing to read signs of the "build-up" of the terrorist Islamic State (ISIS) in the Philippines, leading to the siege of Marawi City.

"The Philippines failed to detect, to read, the indicators, the signs, and the clues that led to Marawi. We have to acknowledge that," Gunaratna said on Friday.

"If governments do not understand to read the indicators, then another Marawi is inevitable in this region," he also said.

Gunaratna was speaking at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Conference on Peace and the Prevention of Violent Extremism in Southeast Asia at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City.

The expert was referring to the May 23 siege of Marawi by the terrorist Maute Group, which is linked to ISIS. (READ: Terror in Mindanao: The Mautes of Marawi)

The Marawi siege triggered clashes with the Philippine military, and prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to put Mindanao under martial law.

The Marawi clashes have killed at least 147 government forces, 45 civilians, and 660 terrorists. The crisis has also forced more than 600,000 Filipinos out of their homes.

'Not an intelligence failure'

In a speech, Gunaratna pointed out that the Marawi siege "is not an intelligence failure," but "an operational failure."

"It is a failure of government to act based on sound and timely intelligence," he said.

He explained that before the Marawi siege, the Philippine intelligence community had already produced 4 reports on the "build-up" in Marawi. The latest of these reports was published on April 14.

"So you can see that as we look at the expansion of IS in the Southeast Asian region, for governments, it is very important to read the signs, indicators, and clues of the build-up of groups in certain cities," he said, referring to ISIS by its other acronym, IS.

He added that the expertise of ISIS "is distinct" from that of terror groups Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Jemaah Islamiyah, "which was largely fighting in the rural areas."

In contrast, he said, "if you look at IS, it was always moving from the desert to the cities," such as Mosul and Raqqa.

Gunaratna also said that "IS central advised those groups that occupied Marawi on how to conduct the battle in Marawi."

He cited advice from "IS central" on May 24, just a day after the Marawi siege. This was for the Maute Group to "quickly get a drone up," as the Armed Forces of the Philippines approached Marawi. "So you can see the guidance."

Duterte and previous leaders

At the same time, Gunaratna noted that President Rodrigo Duterte "acknowledged that IS is operating in the Philippines." (READ: Duterte says martial law due to ISIS threat)

"Unfortunately, the previous leaders, the previous bureaucrats, said there's no IS in the Philippines. So I think that the President understood that to fight IS, he needed to identify them," Gunaratna said. (READ: Admit ISIS presence in Philippines, analyst says)

"Identifying the problem itself is 50% of the solution," he said.

Former Philippine president Fidel V Ramos, who was in Friday's event, also gave his own "very sound advice" on the Marawi crisis.

"The Marawi uprising could have been prevented if only there was more of what we call in ASEAN 'musyawarah-mufakat.' What is that? Musyawarah means consultation. Mufakat means consensus," he said.

Consultation, he said, can be done through the government mechanism called Legislatic-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac).

Created by Ramos in 1992, Ledac advises the President and is composed of the Vice President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and other government leaders.

Ramos, who endorsed Duterte for president, said "consultation" has taken a different form under the former Davao City mayor.

"Now the consultation is only among the party leaders. Ano 'yon?" (What's that?) – Rappler.com

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Singapore seen as top spot to launch global cyber attacks

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NEW YORK — Singapore has overtaken nations including the US, Russia and China as the country launching the most cyber attacks globally, according to Israeli data security firm Check Point Software Technologies.

The company, whose software tracks an average of eight to 10 million live cyber attacks daily, said Singapore rose to pole position after ranking in the top five attacking countries for the previous two weeks.

“It is not particularly unusual for Singapore to be featured among the top attacking countries,” said Eying Wee, Check Point’s Asia-Pacific spokeswoman.

A key Southeast Asian technology hub, much of the internet traffic flowing through Singapore originates in other countries. That means a cyber attack recorded as coming from Singapore may have been launched outside the country, she said.

The Cyber Security Agency of Singapore said there are a number of reports measuring cyber attacks, which are based on various methodologies and therefore provide different perspectives of the situation.

“As a commercial hub with high interconnectivity, Singapore is undoubtedly an attractive target for cybercriminals,” a spokesman for the agency said in an email, adding that it’s important for the nation to maintain high cybersecurity standards and take necessary measures to protect its systems and data.

Cyber Defense

The city-state, which wants to become a global technology hub, recently stepped up efforts to tighten cyber security after several high profile attacks on government agencies and companies.

“Singapore has now found itself on someone’s list,” Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said in July. “The attacks are orchestrated, the attacks are targeted, they want to steal specific information, there are minds behind this orchestration.”

Earlier this year, Singapore’s military established a cyber defense unit while the government drafted legislation to impose new cyber security requirements aimed at helping companies protect critical information infrastructure.

In May, Singapore stopped most of its public servants from being able to access the internet from their work computers. The nation’s central bank has also set up an international advisory committee dedicated to enhancing the safety and resilience of Singapore’s financial sector. BLOOMBERG

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8 Things We Learned From Colonel Khairul Anuar, A Malaysian 'Black Hawk Down' Hero

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Back in 1993, Col. Khairul Anuar was a Second Lieutenant when he was sent on assignment for six months in Mogadishu, Somalia.
​If you aren't aware, Black Hawk Down was the movie depicting the Battle of Mogadishu where American forces were pinned down by Somalian militia after two of their helicopters were shot down. The Royal Malay Regiment of the Malaysian Army were instrumental to the rescue of the soldiers but were not properly acknowledged for their efforts.


We meet Colonel Khairul Anuar at Kem Wardieburn in Setapak. He appears in #theblackhawkdown Wira Keamanan, a documentary produced by Astro recounting the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia and we were privileged enough to speak with him at his office in 4 Division where he works as Chief of Staff. At 46, the Colonel has served in the army for 27 years.

Four cigarettes, a couple of phone calls, and a few tabik hormats later between him and his cadets, and we were done with our interview. In that time, we spoke to him about the benefits of joining the military, his reasons for drafting, the reputation of the Malaysian Armed Forces in the eyes of the world, and what really happened at the Battle of Mogadishu. Here's all we learned in our interview with him:

The interview was conducted in Malay and has been translated into English while maintaining its meaning.

1. Joining the Malaysian Armed Forces has it perks

As long as you're willing to sign the 10-year contract, the military will pretty much take care of all your educational needs. Under the army, you can enter as an engineer or a doctor and have your educational expenses covered. On top of that, you'll be paid a salary along with allowances. You can read the list of benefits here

According to Col. Khairul, the amount of cadets entering has risen since he joined in 1989 and there is actually a surplus of applicants now. And according to the enlistment site, in 2016, a total of 22,552 people joined the military which includes cadets, Tentera Darat, Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia, and Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia. The total so far at the time of this article is 18,521.

2. Khairul himself joined the army initially because of these perks

"No one in my family joined the military. My family was not well-to-do. When it came time for me to go to university, my sister was already in uni so I 'sacrificed' myself. Since my family could not afford to send three children to university, I decided to join the military as a cadet. Because the army supported all my financial needs, my family did not need to spend a single cent."

3. His battalion was assigned to Somalia for six months

They were assigned under UNOSOM II's Quick Reaction Force. "Any incidents that come up will be assigned to us by UNOSOM. So we were on stand-by 24 hours a day." His main duties included patroling the gazetted safe zones while also escorting civilians from A to B.

4. The one thing that Black Hawk Down got wrong about the Battle of Mogadishu

"First things first, the movie was accurate, but you know lah, Hollywood, they're not going to do a movie about Malaysia. The story was real, but they just didn't involve us in the movie. They excluded us from the rescue operation.

"The movie didn't mention the three failed attempts by the Americans at rescuing their soldiers. Only at the fourth attempt did they call us in to rescue them." Looks like in the end, it's just a case of Hollywood glorifying America, which makes sense if you're an American, watching an American movie.

"The movie only show us (the rescue team) coming in at the end of the movie. So it looked like we had very little involvement."

5. What the rescue operation was really like

Colonel Khairul was part of Team Alpha of Bravo Company. Their objective was to secure the downed helicopter on the eastern corner. "Location kapal terbang, tak tau. Cari." He told us that the search extended into black zones that were strongholds of the Somalian militia. They were going into enemy territory for the first time without navigation. "Our mission was to find the downed helis. We were shot at even before we entered the black areas."

"These were paramilitary soldiers who were trained. So when we entered the enemy zone they ambushed us." He recalls nearly 50 - 60 vehicles inlcuding tanks, APCs, and anti-tank vehicles entering enemy territory with roads that were really narrow.

The Americans had an eye in the sky with a heli that gave directions to the team on the ground. As platoon commander, Col. Khairul received navigation from the heli and gave instructions. "We were shot at from all directions. It sounded like rain. All the soldiers in the vehicle were afraid, because the longer we stayed in the vehicle, the higher the chances of it exploding and killing all of us in one go."

"The soldiers were shouting 'Dismount, dismount!'. I had to yell back at them to wait. I was still receiving instructions to reach the location. Finally, we reached a close enough area to dismount and our soldiers rushed out of the vehicles to for cover between the buildings."

From here they used the vehicles for cover and inched their way through Bakaara Market. On the way, soldiers were killed and wounded, and these were carried and placed into the vehicles immediately.

"By the time we reached the 70 soldiers they were already defending their position for a very long time. Their food and water supply and their bullets were already finished." In his words, "Diorang tunggu sembelih sahaja."
By the time all the bodies from the crash site were recovered, it was already morning. Mortar fire and enemy gunfire continued through the night and the soldiers were extracted with APCs with flat tires. "Tinggal rim saje," as he says.

6. After the rescue, military ties between America and Malaysia were greatly improved

"While we were at Somalia, the army was really thankful. In fact, we are now regarded like anak angkat."

"But these are military to military relations. Government to government is a different thing." At the time of this interview, our PM had not met with President Donald Trump yet. Perhaps relations are better now.

7. The UN also acknowledges the Malaysian army

"Because of the incident, we were recognised by the United Nations and are never second guessed during missions."

"People here (Malaysians) don't see this, they don't see the contributions of the military in Malaysia. We have lots of UN Observer Missions overseas."

"Observer Missions are usually done by officers but we still have troops in Lebanon as part of Resolution 1701 as peacekeepers. The Malaysian army is there to educate the local troops and to assist the government in various activities like building schools and infrastructure."

8. His message to Malaysians

"I feel the rakyat (of Malaysia) view the military as irrelevant these days. They say things like 'Why we have the military using government funds?' and 'It's better to use the money for something else'. They only have an insular view of the army and not a global outlook. The military is like an insurance for the nation. If you're healthy, you don't see the benefits, but when you're sick you get the benifits. Why don't people attack us? It's because we have a strong military."

"As an ambassador overseas, we introduce Malaysia to the world during our missions. During my first tour to Lebanon, the locals didn't even know where Malaysia was. The Norwegian army asked me as well, where is Malaysia? Singapore I know, Malaysia I don't know. Through military relations we are able to educate them, and now everyone knows, 'Ah, Malaysia'."

"Not many people know about our contributions because our army doesn't appear on TV. Not like the police. Police you can see every day catching people here and there. But did you know that in every single border surrounding Malaysia, there are army men guarding it? In Thailand, Johor, Sabah, and Sarawak, we have men guarding them. People sleep safely in their homes while we sleep in the jungle; leaving our families (usually) for three months."

The movie Black Hawk Down was released in 2001 and the incident happened in 1993. Only recently, in December 2013 – 20 years after the incident – did America extend an official sign of gratitude. It's 20 years too late but hey, it's something.

You can watch #theblackhawkdown Wira Keamanan on Astro On Demand, Astro GO, and on Astro Awani, Astro Ria and Ria HD, Astro Maya HD, and Astro Prima on 16 September 2017.

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Is There Any Way to Counter China's Gray Zone Tactics in the South China Sea?

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China and India’s moves to de-escalate tensions over the Doklam standoff inspired commentary about how Beijing’s coercive strategies can be countered. Some may argue that after all, India can be deemed a peer competitor to China in terms of relative power, especially militarily. Both countries are nuclear-weapon states and if push ever comes to shove in renewed border hostilities, they might be mindful of escalating armed action beyond the threshold of outright war and, worse, cross the Rubicon into nuclear conflict.
India’s lessons on dealing with China’s coercion are indeed interesting. But what about looking at Beijing’s rivals in the context of an obvious power asymmetry? Its Southeast Asian adversaries in the South China Sea immediately come to mind. That region is made up of smaller, weaker nation-states, which do not have India’s array of power tools and other forms of strategic leverages. It might be tempting to conclude that these Southeast Asian countries are easy pickings for Beijing to successfully exercise its coercive strategy.
Southeast Asian Rivals as Easy Pickings for China?
In fact, not too long after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued a joint statement about the South China Sea that amounted to no more than a slap on Beijing’s wrist. Additionally, both parties formally endorsed a framework for a proposed code of conduct to manage disputes after there were revelations about the presence of several Chinese vessels spotted close to Philippine-occupied Thitu Island. A Philippine fishery patrol vessel was allegedly harassed as well.
This is where Manila’s reaction differs from New Delhi’s swift and decisive counter against a perceived Chinese attempt to alter the status quo in Doklam. True to the typical fashion of a pro-Beijing Rodrigo Duterte administration, Philippine foreign affairs secretary Alan Peter Cayetano neither confirmed nor denied the report. Instead, he downplayed its significance. “The presence of ships alone does not mean anything,” he remarked.
One may be tempted to empathize with Manila’s attempt to overlook China’s new antics in the disputed waters, for the country needs to confront other teething security challenges posed by terrorists and drug lords. Duterte has shifted away from Washington to Beijing for aid and investments to feed socioeconomic development, including his much-touted “Build Build Build” nationwide infrastructure program, which he promoted during the Belt and Road Forum hosted by his generous new friend, Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Simply put, a flare-up in the South China Sea does not serve his administration’s interest. Duterte and his close associates, such as equally pro-China Cayetano, do not wish to rock the boat and risk Beijing withholding those carrots it promised Manila. It thus appears inevitable for the Philippines to capitulate to China, not just shelving the arbitral award that rendered it overwhelming legal victory over its much larger and more powerful northern neighbor; but if necessary, it must suffer in silence from what Robert Haddick argued as “salami slicing” gray-zone strategies customarily utilized by Beijing to wear down opponents in the disputed waters.
China’s Gray-Zone Tactics
Duterte isn’t alone. He can find a close confidante in Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak who, as a general election looms, has also turned to Beijing for aid and investments to shore up his ruling party’s standing. Najib tries hard to ingratiate himself with China, such as through his “durian diplomacy.” He shuts up domestic critics who fear that he is selling out Malaysia’s sovereignty for Chinese largesse, even to the extent of exhibiting ambivalence—in the name of being nonconfrontational—about frequent Chinese coastguard incursions near features located well within Malaysia’s sea jurisdiction.

Is this the preordained destiny of smaller and weaker states like the Philippines and Malaysia, to capitulate to China’s gray-zone tactics? The International Security Advisory Board defines gray-zone approaches in its January 2017 report for the Department of State as “the use of techniques to achieve a nation’s goals and frustrate those of its rivals by employing instruments of power—often asymmetric and ambiguous in character—that are not direct use of acknowledged regular military forces.” China’s island-building program in the South China Sea counts as one such example, not to mention its gunboat diplomacy, which includes the use of its fabled fishing militia.
Manila and Kuala Lumpur fall neatly into the category of meek rivals that Beijing very much desires—preferring not to escalate their disputes beyond the “red line” of outright shooting war, and not imperiling their quest for Chinese benefits. But before one starts to assume Malaysia and the Philippines’ responses to China as constituting the norm in Southeast Asia, we must consider whether it’s inevitable to conflate between upholding one’s sovereignty and rights on the one hand, and promoting economic ties on the other.
Indonesia and Vietnam, which have serious stakes in the South China Sea, have proved that there is no such false dichotomy. At first glance, the two cash-strapped and resource-constrained countries could have been easy walkovers for Beijing’s gray-zone antics. But that wasn’t the case.
Indonesian Blowback at Beijing
Suffice to say, Sino-Indonesian ties have blossomed in the past one decade or so. Jakarta has not only sought investments from Beijing, but it has even purchased Chinese weapons. However, it did not become a pushover when a fishing boat incident flared up in March 2016. That year the Chinese coast guard rammed its fishing boat, the Kway Fey 10078, well within Jakarta’s jurisdictional waters off the Natuna Islands in a forceful intervention against Indonesian fishery law enforcement. Instead of downplaying the episode, President Joko Widodo, whose legitimacy of his Global Maritime Fulcrum vision was in danger of being derailed by anything less than resolve against Beijing’s encroachment, visited Natuna Islands aboard a warship.
In an even more ominous demonstration that Jakarta would tolerate no more nonsense from Beijing, the Indonesian Navy beefed up its presence at the islands. In June of that same year the navy fired warning shots at several Chinese fishing boats operating illegally in Natuna waters, reportedly injuring a fisherman in the process. Beijing protested, but Jakarta was unfazed. “We will not hesitate to take decisive action against foreign ships, whatever their flag and nationality, when they commit violations in Indonesian territory,” Indonesian navy spokesman 1st Adm. Edi Sucipto said after the incident. Since then, no further Chinese transgression has been reported.
But there was no subsequent major fallout. Chinese investments in Indonesia were unaffected; in fact, those investments grew by 291 percent over the January–September in 2016, hitting $1.6 billion by the following January. Still, Jakarta wished to signal Beijing that it should not be trifled with. In October 2016, Jakarta sought more Japanese investments and a month later, announced its preference for Japan to clinch a semi-high-speed train project. The following January, both countries agreed to step up maritime-security cooperation. Beijing grossly miscalculated that its gray-zone tactic would work against Indonesia, like what it did back in March 2013, thus pushing the latter to its rival.
Bilateral ties gradually recovered, with Indonesia having successfully garnered greater Chinese interest to ramp up investments. At the same time, the Southeast Asian country did not lax on its South China Sea interest, even renaming part of the waters as the North Natuna Sea. Beyond just criticizing this move, Beijing desisted from retaliation.


Vietnam’s Struggle against China
What about Vietnam? Since ancient history, this feisty Southeast Asian country has maintained a proven track record of resisting Chinese aggression. The naval skirmishes in the South China Sea in 1974 and 1988 could have been impressed upon Hanoi the futility of opposing Beijing in the disputed waters. Yet when China placed its deep-sea oil rig, the HD-981, in contested waters off Vietnamese coast and near to the Paracel Islands in May 2014, Hanoi responded decisively—and was at least a match for Beijing’s gray-zone antic. It carefully avoided sending military forces to face-off with the Chinese, instead deploying its coastguard and fishery enforcement vessels—and even its own fishing militia.
The standoff dragged on until back-channel diplomacy—mainly between the two communist parties—resulted in both sides backing down by end of July. Still, Hanoi had reasons to pat itself on the back, albeit at a cost. The sustained impasse compelled Vietnam to shelve routine maintenance for its coastguard and fishery-enforcement vessels, affecting their operational availability for other tasks. If the standoff had dragged on, Vietnam, already disadvantaged in its physical capacity, could have blinked first. Nonetheless, Hanoi’s gambit paid off. Beijing had some newfound respect for its erstwhile Southeast Asian rival.
Vietnam did not suffer repercussions from the standoff. Being economically tied to China, characterized by a trade deficit in the latter’s favor, did not stop Vietnam from testing its powerful northern neighbor from time to time. In September and October 2014, top Vietnamese and Indian leaders exchanged visits and inked numerous agreements, including for closer defense- and maritime-security cooperation. Of peculiar interest is one pact that called for India’s state-owned ONGC Videsh Limited to “expand its presence in Vietnam and further consolidate cooperation in exploration and other areas between the two countries in energy sector.” One recalls that China deployed the oil rig in response to Vietnam’s offer of additional offshore blocks to the Indian firm in waters claimed by Beijing.
In the years that followed, Vietnam continued to ramp-up cooperation with China’s rivals such as India and Japan. Yet it suffered no Chinese blowback. In fact, bilateral border trade continued to flourish. Notably, trade with Guangxi province jumped by 8.6 percent year-on-year to almost $6.9 billion in the first half of 2015—the highest of any border city in China. By early 2017, Beijing remains Hanoi’s biggest trade partner; the latter having raised exports to the former by 34.4 percent year-on-year. Even though Hanoi halted drilling in disputed waters after a reported threat from Beijing, it continued to challenge the latter over the South China Sea issues, especially during the most recent ASEAN meeting in Manila.
Peace isn’t the Natural State of Affairs in World Politics
Indonesia and Vietnam show that it’s possible to draw the line between resolutely defending one’s sovereignty and rights in the South China Sea, and fostering economic links with Beijing. It is possible for smaller and weaker states to purposefully shift the onus of escalation to the party contemplating gray-zone tactics through increasing the likelihood of conflict. The thought of suggesting this is troubling of course, since it is premised on the political calculation that the risk of war can be reduced by taking steps to lower the threshold for war itself.
Yet it does highlight the fallacy of believing that peace is the natural state of affairs in world politics. It’s time for Manila and Kuala Lumpur to learn from their neighbors on how to stand up to Beijing’s gray-zone tactics through a clear demonstration of resolve.
Koh Swee Lean Collin is research fellow with the Maritime Security Programme, at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies based in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Image: A live-fire drill using an aircraft carrier is seen carried out in the Bohai sea, China, December 14, 2016. Picture taken December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

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JULIE BISHOP WADES INTO SOUTH CHINA SEA STOUSH

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FOREIGN Minister Julie Bishop has raised concerns about how China would react to any Australian Naval deployment in the South China Sea contested territories.

In recent months, there have been high-level discussions between Turnbull Government senior ministers and department heads about what Australia’s stance should be in dealing with the South China Sea territorial disputes.

The discussions came as a mini armada of six Australian Navy ships sail north in the Indo-Pacific ­region and towards the South China Sea, to conduct military exercises in the biggest task-group deployment in more than 30 years.
During recent high-level discussions about Australia’s strategic options in the western ­Pacific, Ms Bishop and senior officials at DFAT are understood to have queried how any deployment near the contested waters would be received and interpreted by China.

However, it is understood that they were not opposed to exercises being conducted in the region.

The exercises are a show of resolve intended to maintain Australia’s presence in the western Pacific.

While Chinese state-owned media has been highly critical of the ­deployment, the Defence Department told The Daily Telegraph China had not raised the matter with Australia through diplomatic channels. The Turnbull government strongly reiterated its support for the rights of any nation to sail through the contested territories.
“This is part of what the Australian navy does,” she said in New York outside the UN headquarters.

Foreign policy expert Greg Sheridan said the fact the Turnbull government had not ruled out sailing within 12 nautical miles of artificial Chinese islands would agitate China in itself and was a “brave move.”



Ms Bishop declined to ­respond to questions from The Daily Telegraph about any concerns she raised in high-level discussions. But she told Sky News the military exercises had been planned for some time.

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Beijing Adopts New Tactic for S. China Sea Claims

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'Four Sha' island groups replace illegal 9-Dash Line

The Chinese government recently unveiled a new legal tactic to promote Beijing's aggressive claim to own most of the strategic South China Sea.

The new narrative that critics are calling "lawfare," or legal warfare, involves a shift from China's so-called "9-Dash Line" ownership covering most of the sea.

The new lawfare narrative is called the "Four Sha"—Chinese for sand—and was revealed by Ma Xinmin, deputy director general in the Foreign Ministry's department of treaty and law, during a closed-door meeting with State Department officials last month.

China has claimed three of the island chains in the past and recently added a fourth zone in the northern part of the sea called the Pratas Islands near Hong Kong.

The other locations are the disputed Paracels in the northwestern part and the Spratlys in the southern sea. The fourth island group is located in the central zone and includes Macclesfield Bank, a series of underwater reefs and shoals.

China calls the island groups Dongsha, Xisha, Nansha, and Zhongsha, respectively.

Ma, the Foreign Ministry official, announced during the meetings in Boston on Aug. 28 and 29 that China is asserting sovereignty over the Four Sha through several legal claims. He stated the area is China's historical territorial waters and also part of China's 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone that defines adjacent zones as sovereign territory. Beijing also claims ownership by asserting the Four Sha are part of China's extended continental shelf.

U.S. officials attending the session expressed surprise at the new Chinese ploy to seek control over the sea as something not discussed before.

State Department spokesman Justin Higgins said the department does not comment on diplomatic discussions.

The United States, he said, has a longstanding global policy of not adopting positions on competing sovereignty claims over land features in the South China Sea.

"The United States does take principled positions, and has been clear and consistent, that maritime claims by all countries in the South China Sea and around the world must be made and pursued in accordance with the international law of the sea as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention," Higgins said.

All the islands are claimed by other states in the region, including Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as by China.

The United States does not recognize China's control over the island groups and insists the sea, which sees an annual transit of an estimated $3.37 trillion in trade, is international.

The Pentagon and State Department have said the South China Sea is international waters and that American vessels and aircraft will transit the area unimpeded by Chinese claims of control.

The State Department in December formally protested China's unlawful maritime claims in a diplomatic note.

The Trump administration's recent focus on pressuring North Korea to denuclearize has given China a green light to step up its South China Sea control efforts.

Chinese coast guard and navy vessels successfully blocked the Philippines from repairing a runway on one of the Spratly islands, and in July China pressured Vietnam into halting natural gas drilling in the Paracels.

The Chinese Four Sha legal maneuver follows the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in July 2016 that legally nullified China's claim to historically own all waters and territory within the Nine-Dash Line.

The international tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines government, which disputed the Chinese claim to the Spratlys.

The tribunal noted "there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources," according to a statement by the court last year.

China has rejected the international ruling, which has the force of international law.

Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Center for Chinese Strategy, said the latest maritime maneuver by the Chinese is lawfare—one of China's three information warfare tools. The two others are media warfare and psychological warfare.

Pillsbury noted that the U.S. government lacks both legal warfare and counter legal warfare capabilities.

"The Chinese government seems to be better organized to design and implement clever legal tactics to defy international norms with impunity," Pillsbury said.

"It may ultimately require congressional legislation to mandate our executive branch to build a better capacity to counter the Chinese use of lawfare," he added. "If we had such a unit, it would be easy to counter China, especially when we have the United Nations on our side."

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence chief, said if confirmed the Four Sha program appears to be "Beijing's next logical step in their ‘salami slicing,' asserting the PRC's claims to the South China Sea."

"Given that an announcement of claims to the entirety of the Nine-Dash Line raised alarms throughout the region, it makes sense for the PRC Foreign Ministry to float this notion of an incremental step forward with the concept of the Four Sha approach to the eventual restoration of the entirety of the South China Sea."

Fanell said the Trump administration should first remind Beijing and the rest of the world about the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that found China's sovereignty claims to the sea both illegal and illegitimate.

"Second, the U.S. would do well to permanently deploy a carrier or expeditionary strike group to the South China Sea in order to make sure Beijing knows that our words are backed up by more than mere words," he said.

The United States has been pushing back against China's maritime claims in the sea by conducting Navy warship freedom of navigation operations around the disputed islands.

The naval operations were stalled during the Obama administration in a bid to avoid upsetting China. Under President Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, warship freedom of navigation operations have resumed with regularity but without formal public acknowledgement of the operations.

In August, the destroyer USS John S. McCain sailed with 12 miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratlys, drawing criticism from China.

China denounced the warship passage as a provocation and violation of Chinese sovereignty.

China over the past several years has reclaimed some 3,200 acres of islands in the sea and in recent months began militarizing the islands with missile emplacements and other military facilities.

China also created a new governing unit over the sea called the Sansha administration in 2012. Sansha, or Three Sha, includes the Paracels, Macclesfield Bank, and the Spratlys and covered a total of 20 square kilometers of land, more than 2 million square kilometers of water, and a population of around 2,500 people.

A State Department notice at the end of what was billed as an annual U.S.-China Dialogue on the Law of the Sea and Polar Issues made no mention of the new Chinese lawfare tactic.

The statement said only that officials from foreign affairs and maritime agencies "exchanged views on a wide range of issues related to oceans, the law of the sea, and the polar regions."

The U.S. delegation was led by Evan Bloom, State Department director for ocean and polar affairs in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Bloom declined to comment on the talks.

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US bombers stage North Korea show of force

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It said the flight was the farthest north of the demilitarised zone between the Koreas that any US fighter jet or bomber had flown in the 21st Century.
Tensions have risen recently over Pyongyang's nuclear programme.
At the UN, North Korea's foreign minister said US President Donald Trump was on a "suicide mission".
Ri Yong-ho's comments to the General Assembly mimicked Mr Trump's remarks at the UN on Tuesday, when he called North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a "rocket man on a suicide mission".
Mr Ri added that "insults" by Mr Trump - who was, he said, "mentally deranged and full of megalomania" - were an "irreversible mistake making it inevitable" that North Korean rockets would hit the US mainland.
Mr Trump, the foreign minister said, would "pay dearly" for his speech, in which he also said he would "totally destroy" North Korea if the US was forced to defend itself or its allies.

Shortly before his address, the Pentagon announced that the show of force underscored "the seriousness" with which the US took North Korea's "reckless" behaviour, calling the country's weapons programme a "grave threat".
"This mission is a demonstration of US resolve and a clear message that the president has many military options to defeat any threat," it said in a statement.
"We are prepared to use the full range of military capabilities to defend the US homeland and our allies."
US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers from Guam, escorted by Air Force F-15C Eagle fighters from Okinawa, Japan, flew in international airspace, the Pentagon added.
The flight follows a week of heated rhetoric between the leaders of both countries - after Mr Trump's comments, Mr Kim called him "mentally deranged" and "a dotard".
Mr Ri did not comment on the Pentagon's announcement.

North Korea has refused to stop its missile and nuclear tests, despite successive rounds of UN sanctions. Its leaders say nuclear capabilities are its only deterrent against an outside world seeking to destroy it.
After the North's latest and most powerful nuclear test earlier this month, the UN Security Council approved new sanctions on the country.
But speaking at the UN, Mr Ri repeated that the restrictions would not make the country stop its nuclear development.

Meanwhile, a shallow magnitude 3.4 tremor was detected near North Korea's nuclear test site on Saturday morning, but experts believe it was a natural earthquake.
The quake was recorded at a depth of 0km in North Hamgyong province, home to the Punggye-ri site, South Korea's meteorological agency said.
The US Geological Survey also said it occurred in the nuclear test area, but added that its seismologists assessed it as having a depth of 5km.
South Korea said no specific sound waves generated by artificial earthquakes were detected.
China's Earthquake Administration said the quake was not a nuclear explosion and had the characteristics of a natural tremor. The agency had initially said it was a "suspected explosion".

Analysts from the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), the UN-backed monitoring group, said the quake was "unlikely man-made".
CTBTO executive secretary Lassina Zerbo tweeted that the quake had occurred "about 50km from prior tests".
"The most probable hypothesis currently is that it is the consequence of the previous event... which could still have further repercussions," Mr Zerbo told the AFP news agency, referring to North Korea's massive nuclear test on 3 September.
North Korea - which has recently carried out a series of nuclear tests - has so far made no comment.
In a separate development, China moved to limit the North Korea's oil supply and stop buying textiles from the country, in line with the latest UN sanctions.
China is North Korea's most important trading partner, and one of its only sources of hard currency.
The ban on textiles - Pyongyang's second-biggest export - is expected to cost the country more than $700m (£530m) a year.

Clothing has often partially been made in North Korea but finished in China, allowing a Made in China label to be legally sewn onto the clothing, BBC World Service Asia-Pacific Editor Celia Hatton says.
China also said its restrictions on refined petroleum products would apply from 1 October, and on liquefied natural gas immediately.
Under a UN resolution, China will still be able to export a maximum of two million barrels of refined petroleum to North Korea annually, beginning next year.
North Korea is estimated to have imported 6,000 barrels of refined petroleum daily from China in 2016 - the equivalent of nearly 2.2 million in total for the entire year.

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Miramar Air Show launches Friday with a salute to Vietnam veterans

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The pilot in the No. 5 Blue Angels jet this weekend thought his flying career was over two years ago.

Then Cmdr. Frank Weisser returned to the Navy’s flight team, filling an unexpected opening last summer after a deadly crash left the squadron down a pilot. Previously, he flew with the team from 2008 to 2010.

“I hadn’t flown for three years. So just reintroducing myself to aviation in general was a big jump for me,” said Weisser, 39, who was working a desk job in Germany when he got the call.

Now Weisser will be one of the stars of the Miramar Air Show, which again features a daily performance by the flashy blue-and-gold Navy F/A-18 Hornets, in addition to Marine Corps aircraft and civilian stunt pilots.

This year, the annual three-day air show will pay special tribute to Vietnam veterans.

At two pinning ceremonies daily, at 10:15 a.m. and 1:55 p.m., veterans of that war are eligible to receive a lapel pin honoring their service.

The effort is led by the Pentagon's Vietnam War Commemoration Office, which is marking the 50th anniversary of the escalation of the conflict, which stretched from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975.

A half-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., will also be on display. The wall lists 58,318 names of those lost during the war. Visitors can take etchings of the names on the wall with paper provided, officials said.

Vietnam veterans will have an opportunity to tell their stories on film, and members of the public can record personalized messages of thanks to those who have served.

The idea to highlight the Vietnam era came from Col. Jason Woodworth, commanding officer of Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

He was attending a Veterans Day parade in Poway when he realized that most of the vets in attendance were no longer from the World War II or Korean War periods.

“They had people stand up based on what war they had fought in, and three-fourths of the crowd stood up when (they said) Vietnam,” Woodworth said Thursday. “So we said, maybe it’s time to really recognize these people a little better than we have in the past.”

It’s a story that’s close to home. The Vietnam War was costly for the Marine Corps.

Nearly 500,000 Marines served in Southeast Asia from 1965 to 1975. More than 13,000 were killed and 88,000 wounded, nearly a third of all American casualties.

Still largely a joyous flexing of American military power, the air show is meant to spotlight the service members who operate the flying machines and delight the taxpayers who fund them.

About 400,000 people are expected to attend the free event between Friday and Sunday.

The estimate marks a slight drop from the past, possibly explained by the permanent cancellation of the Saturday twilight show. Organizers decided that holding two shows on one day stretched resources in an unsafe way.

The rest of the event is largely unchanged, with the Blue Angels team as the marquee act.

The team is renowned for putting the rib-shaking power of naval aviation on display.

Blue Angels Nos. 1 through 4 — known as the “diamond” formation -- do stunts that highlight the grace and finesse of their jet, which was the Navy’s foremost fighter until the recent rollout of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The showstopper for the “diamond” planes is when they fly with each plane’s wings only 18 inches apart from his wingman.

Blue Angels Nos. 5 and 6 showcase the maximum performance of the aircraft.

“We show you how fast it can go, how low it can go, how high it can go, the G-forces it can hold, how tight it can turn,” said Weisser, who pilots No. 5.

Some of those data points: How fast the F/A-18 can go is classified. But, at the air show, they fly just shy of the speed of sound.

Weisser said he sometimes withstands a force of 7.5 G’s. That means his usually 200-pound body feels like it weighs 1,500 pounds, he said. There’s also danger of passing out.

“It becomes a very physical endeavor for us,” No. 5 said. “Everyone is capable of doing it, but there’s a bit of an endurance to it.”

Weisser said that Blue Angels pilots focus on legs and core strength in their physical training. It doesn’t help to be a big bodybuilder with a strong upper body when trying to pull G’s, he said.

Two tragedies in recent years have marked the Blue Angels’ performance.

The team’s “Fat Albert” C-130 cargo plane won’t be appearing this weekend. It was grounded along with all C-130T aircraft after a similar plane crashed in Mississippi during a July training flight, killing 15 Marines and one sailor.

Last year, the Fat Albert plane also did not perform with the Blue Angels at Miramar. Back then the aircraft was getting a 10-month maintenance overhaul.

Also, the June 2016 death of Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, who was Blue Angels No. 6, has changed at least one maneuver.

Kuss crashed just after takeoff during a practice flight for the Great Tennessee Air Show.

Kuss had attempted to do a “split S” maneuver after takeoff but was too low and going too fast for the procedure, according to the Navy judge advocate general investigation.

The “split S” is a sharp vertical takeoff followed by an inverted swoop back toward the ground.

Instead, Blue Angels pilots will perform an Immelmann turn, which is considered less complicated. The pilot performs the sharp vertical takeoff, flips to an inverted position while flying parallel to the ground, and then rights the craft while still parallel.

The wild card for this weekend will be the weather — in particular the cloud cover. The skies of Miramar were cloudy on Thursday while pilots did practice flights for the show.

There are four different versions of the Blue Angels performance, depending on the conditions.

During a “high show,” with a cloudless sky, the planes can fly as high as 15,000 feet, said Blue Angels public affairs officer Lt. Joe Hontz.

“We do everything we can to make it a high show,” he said.

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S-61 Sees 50 Years of Service in Malaysia

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The Royal Malaysian Air Force has been operating the Sikorsky S-61 for 50 years, Sikorsky said. The five decades of continuous service was celebrated Sunday.

In late 1967, the first S-61 was delivered to Malaysia. The initial order was for 10 aircraft. Since it began its service, the Nuri has performed a variety of missions, including transport and search and rescue. The Nuris are based in Butterworth, which is in western Malaysia, and Kuching, which is in eastern Malaysia. The fleet recently received an upgrade, including avionics and glass cockpit.

Sikorsky said that pilots have flown more than 24 million flight hours in S-61 aircraft around the world. It is used for both military and civilian service.

The S-61, according to the manufacturer, marked the end of reciprocating engine installations at the company, and marked the beginning of the era of the lighter, more compact turbine engines. The aircraft served all branches of the U.S. military, and flew with commercial airlines. However, it was first designed for anti-submarine warfare for the U.S. Navy. Starting in 1959, Sikorsky said it produced 794 aircraft based on the original S-61.

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Russian plans to upgrade T-80 and T-90 jeopardise Armata programme

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The Russian Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) 7 September announcement that it was revising plans to permanently remove 10,000 armoured vehicles from its inventory and upgrade T-80 and T-90 series main battle tanks (MBTs) could jeopardise the future of the Armata programme. The announcement together with the reduction in potential orders for the T-14 MBT and the continued decline in Russian defence spending have led some sources to claim that the Armata programme has been cancelled.

Under previous plans, 10,000 reserve vehicles, made available after downsizing the Russian armed forces, were to be melted down by 2020. The revised plan stated that only 4,000 vehicles would be broken down, with the remaining 6,000 kept as a strategic reserve. Russia also plans to upgrade the T-80 to the T-80BVM standard and the T-90 to the T-90M standard as part of a USD417 million contract signed earlier this year. The T-80BVM includes a significant armour upgrade, and the T-90M appears to incorporate many of the improvements from the T-14, such as the commander’s sight with an integrated remotely operated weapon station.

Initial development of the Armata started out with high hopes, but estimates of the number of vehicles to be procured have plummeted downwards since the T-14 and T-15 were unveiled. In 2015, UralVagonZavod (UVZ) CEO Oleg Sienko announced that 2,300 vehicles would be produced by 2020. In 2016, Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov announced the far more sober figure of 100 before 2020, and later in the year, this figure fell to just 70 vehicles, due by the end of 2019. Borisov’s latest announcement, in August 2017, restates his figure of 100 vehicles by 2020, although this presumably includes the approximately 20 vehicles currently undergoing trials in the Russian armed forces.

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CASC unveils next generation USV concepts

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China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) outlined its plans for a new family of unmanned surface vessels (USVs) at the 2017 International Ocean Science and Technology (OST) exhibition in Qingdao.

The platforms are aimed at addressing a range of maritime security and naval requirements, and are under development by the Beijing-based 13th Research Institute of CASC’s Ninth Academy. The new USV designs include the 8.5 m long B850, which is intended to conduct high-speed maritime patrol and interdiction missions, the 11.5 m long A1150 for hydrographic survey, and the 15 m long C1500, which is optimised for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations.

The B850 High Speed Patrol USV is based on a 8.5 m rigid-hull inflatable boat seaframe outfitted with a diesel propulsion system with a proposed maximum speed of 40 kt and operational endurance in excess of 24 hours, or out to a range of 107 n miles. The design is also expected to be capable of operating in conditions of up to Sea State 4.

Standard mission equipment for the B850 will comprise an electro-optical/infrared turret with high definition day/night observation capabilities and integral laser rangefinder, a navigation radar, and satellite communications array, as well as a long range acoustic device. It is also capable of carrying a small multirotor unmanned aircraft system to extend its surveillance range.

The B850 is typically outfitted with a forward-mounted remote weapon system armed with a 7.62 mm or 12.7 mm machine gun, although it can also be armed with anti-frogmen rockets for facility or force protection operations. An eight-tube launcher system was shown on the display model at OST 2017.

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Exercise reveals Azerbaijani Army Dana SPH and RM-70 MRL

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The Azerbaijani Army showed Czech-designed Dana 152 mm self-propelled howitzers (SPHs) and RM-70 Vampir 122 mm (40-round) multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) for the first time during a five-day exercise that began on 18 September.

An Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence press release indicated that the exercise involves participation by 15,000 troops, over 150 armoured vehicles, including tanks, and up to 120 artillery systems of various calibres and ranges.

Video footage showed at least nine Dana SPHs and eight upgraded RM-70 Vampir MRLs in traveling mode entering the exercise area. According to local media, both systems were purchased in 2016 and participating in the exercise for the first time.

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Pentagon budget 2018: Stop-gap funding harming readiness, stalling acquisitions

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The Pentagon is concerned that its current stop-gap budget will further lower military ‘readiness’ levels by keeping funding at the prior year’s levels and barring new programmes.

US President Donald Trump on 8 September signed stop-gap legislation to fund the US government, including the Department of Defense (DoD), through 8 December.

It contained a temporary appropriation, known as a Continuing Resolution (CR), to fund the government in fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) at FY 2017’s levels. CRs cause problems for US military planners as they typically bar ‘new start’ programmes and do not easily accommodate changed priorities.

In an 8 September letter, made public on 12 September, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a CR – even if only for three months – would negatively impact maintenance, equipment acquisitions, and training for all the service branches.

For example, Mattis said the army will delay supply transactions "and then later have to pay more" to get parts built or shipped quicker.

The army will have delays in new start programmes such as the M109A7 Paladin self-propelled howitzer, Interim Combat Service rifle, M3E1 Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapon System (MAAWS), Lightweight 30 mm cannon, and Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicles (AMPVs), Mattis said.

He added that the US Navy "will delay the induction of 11 ships, which will exacerbate the planned ship maintenance" in FY 2018. The navy will also "reduce flying hours and steaming days for those units not deployed or next to deploy" and will "delay the replenishment of spares and repair parts", according to Mattis.

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Bahrain F-16V procurement and upgrade approved

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Bahrain has been approved to procure 22 new Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons and to upgrade its existing fleet of 20 aircraft, in two separate deals valued at a combined USD3.86 billion.

The approvals, announced by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on 8 September, comprise USD2.78 billion for the procurement of 22 new F-16V-standard fighters, and USD1.08 billion for the upgrade of 20 F-6C/D Block 40 aircraft to the same F-16V configuration.

In terms of the procurement of new F-16Vs, the proposed deal includes ancillary equipment, training, and support. The contract to modernise the existing aircraft includes a simulator, ancillary equipment, training, support, targeting pods, and limited quantities of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons.

Also referred to as the F-16 Block 70/72, the F-16V features the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar (derived from the F-16E/F Block 60 AN/APG-80 and also known as the Scalable Agile Beam Radar [SABR]), a new Raytheon mission computer, the Link 16 datalink, modern cockpit displays, an enhanced electronic warfare system, and a ground-collision avoidance system.

The former Obama administration delayed approval of the sale of new-build F-16Vs to the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) and the upgrade of the service's existing Block 40 fleet due to political concerns; however, in late March 2017 the Trump administration notified Congress that the sales could proceed. No reason has been disclosed as to the delay between the administration's notification and the DSCA's recent announcement.

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South Korea is building an elite military unit with one mission: kill Kim Jong Un

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South Korea is forming a hit squad to take out North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Following North Korea’s successful test of its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb earlier this month, the South Korean military has announced it’s creating an assassination unit called the Spartan 3000 to carry out night raids in North Korea. Once in the North, the group could be tasked to kill the leadership — primarily Kim. It could go in early and preempt a North Korean attack on the South, or fight in the middle of a war.

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo told lawmakers of the government’s intention to build the “decapitation unit” on September 4, the day after the recent nuclear test. The administration wants the team ready by the end of the year.

The unit is central to a longstanding plan to fight North Korea if necessary — called “Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation.” In September 2016, the North tested its fifth nuclear weapon, which at that point was the largest bomb it had detonated. Two days later, the South Korean military noted it had the option to kill North Korean leadership, including Kim.

South Korea’s previous president, the hawkish Park Geun-hye, planned to have the unit ready by 2019. But it appears the administration of the dovish Moon Jae-in wants it ready to go much sooner — likely because Moon needs to show he’s pushing back on a more aggressive North.

“I think this may be more in response to domestic pressure on the Moon administration to reintroduce US tactical nuclear weapons than an escalation with North Korea,” Troy Stangarone, an expert at the Korea Economic Institute, told me in an interview. Last week, Song floated that idea in front of political leaders, but Moon has repeatedly said he doesn’t want those weapons in South Korea.

“This has been getting quite a bit of play over the last few days, so [the administration] need[s] to be seen as taking strong steps to defend South Korea in the absence of a nuclear option,” Stangarone continued. “This is about deterrence.”

The announcement seems to have the approval of former South Korean military leaders. “The best deterrence we can have, next to having our own nukes, is to make Kim Jong Un fear for his life,” Shin Won-sik, a South Korean three-star general who retired in 2015, told the Times.

The Spartan 3000 will be a modern version of a ragtag assassination team the South Koreans created in the 1960s. Back then, the South Korean military secretly trained prisoners and others to go into North Korea and kill then-leader Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather.

But the new unit is officially recognized by the Moon government. And it’s not the only military moves this administration has made in recent days.

South Korea is preparing for an unlikely war
“We cannot rely only on our ally for our security,” Moon said in a nationally televised speech on August 15, alluding to the United States. “When it comes to matters related to the Korean Peninsula, our country has to take the initiative in resolving them.”

And take the initiative he has. On September 5, Moon told Trump that South Korea wants to build a nuclear submarine. Seoul also wants to increase the payload on its missiles so they can do more damage, and has temporarily deployed the last four THAAD missile defense systems that it bought from the US. And Moon plans to buy more military equipment from the United States now that President Donald Trump has approved the sales.

The New York Times also reports that South Korea has three ongoing war plans: “Kill Chain,” in which South Korea would preemptively launch missiles at North Korea if it detected Pyongyang was about to shoot projectiles of its own at the South; “Korea Air and Missile Defense,” which aims to take out any rockets shot by North Korea’s artillery force, which is the largest in the world; and “Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation,” where the goal is to destroy the area in Pyongyang Kim hides in to avoid assassination.

South Korea is naturally worried about what North Korea can do. In case of a war, South Korea would be one of Pyongyang’s first targets. Seoul, South Korea’s capital with a metro area that hosts around half of the country’s 50 million people, is only about 35 miles from the inter-Korean border. That’s near where around 70 percent of North Korea’s ground forces are stationed.

One war game convened by the Atlantic back in 2005 predicted that a North Korean attack would kill 100,000 people in Seoul in the first few days alone. Others put the estimate even higher. A war game mentioned by the National Interest predicted Seoul could “be hit by over half-a-million shells in under an hour.”

Critics may still see Moon as a dove on North Korea. But that description doesn’t seem to fit after some of these latest militaristic moves — which Moon wants to do to stave off a North Korean attack.

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South Korea Plans ‘Decapitation Unit’ to Try to Scare North’s Leaders

7:23:00 AM Add Comment



SEOUL, South Korea — The last time South Korea is known to have plotted to assassinate the North Korean leadership, nothing went as planned.

In the late 1960s, after North Korean commandoes tried to ransack the presidential palace in Seoul, South Korea secretly trained misfits plucked from prison or off the streets to sneak into North Korea and slit the throat of its leader, Kim Il-sung. When the mission was aborted, the men mutinied.

They killed their trainers and fought their way into Seoul before blowing themselves up, an episode the government concealed for decades.

Now, as Mr. Kim’s grandson, Kim Jong-un, accelerates his nuclear missile program, South Korea is again preparing to target the North’s leadership. A day after North Korea conducted its sixth — and by far most powerful — nuclear test this month, the South Korean defense minister, Song Young-moo, told lawmakers in Seoul that a special forces “decapitation unit” would be established by the end of the year.

The brigade-size unit, unlike its earlier counterpart, would operate officially. The military has been retooling helicopters and transport planes to penetrate North Korea at night so that the forces, known as the Spartan 3000, can carry out raids.
“We can now build ballistic missiles that can slam through deep underground bunkers where Kim Jong-un would be hiding,” Mr. Shin said. “The idea is how we can instill the kind of fear a nuclear weapon would — but do so without a nuke. In the medieval system like North Korea, Kim Jong-un’s life is as valuable as hundreds of thousands of ordinary people whose lives would be threatened in a nuclear attack.”

Although a majority of South Koreans, especially conservative politicians and commentators, call for arming their country with nuclear weapons of its own, Mr. Moon has repeatedly vowed to rid the Korean Peninsula of such weapons. In June, Mr. Trump reiterated Washington’s nuclear-umbrella doctrine, promising to protect the South with “the full range of United States military capabilities, both conventional and nuclear.”

But after North Korea tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, including one that appeared capable of hitting the mainland United States, South Koreans are not so sure the Americans would follow through.

“Would the Americans intervene in a war on the peninsula if their own Seattle were threatened with a North Korean nuclear ICBM?” said Park Hwee-rhak, a military analyst at Kookmin University in Seoul.

South Korea has now introduced three arms-buildup programs — Kill Chain; the Korea Air and Missile Defense program; and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation initiative, which includes the decapitation unit.

Mr. Moon has vowed to expand the defense budget to 2.9 percent of South Korea’s gross domestic product during his term, from 2.4 percent, or $35.4 billion, as of this year. For next year, his government has proposed a budget of $38.1 billion, nearly $12 billion of it for weapons to defend against North Korea.

In a Twitter post last Tuesday, Mr. Trump said, “I am allowing Japan & South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States.”

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Rarely does a government announce a strategy to assassinate a head of state, but South Korea wants to keep the North on edge and nervous about the consequences of further developing its nuclear arsenal. At the same time, the South’s increasingly aggressive posture is meant to help push North Korea into accepting President Moon Jae-in’s offer of talks.

It is a difficult balancing act, pitting Mr. Moon’s preference for a diplomatic solution against his nation’s need to answer an existential question: How can a country without nuclear weapons deter a dictator who has them?

“The best deterrence we can have, next to having our own nukes, is to make Kim Jong-un fear for his life,” said Shin Won-sik, a three-star general who was the South Korean military’s top operational strategist before he retired in 2015.

The measures have also raised questions about whether South Korea and the United States, its most important ally, are laying the groundwork to kill or incapacitate Mr. Kim and his top aides before they can even order an attack.

While Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has said the United States does not seek leadership change in North Korea, and the South Koreans say the new military tactics are meant to offset the North Korean threat, the capabilities they are building could be used pre-emptively.

The tactics led to a breakthrough last week when President Trump agreed to lift payload limits under a decades-old treaty, allowing South Korea to build more powerful ballistic missiles. The United States helped South Korea build its first ballistic missiles in the 1970s, but in return, imposed restrictions to try to prevent a regional arms race.

Under the Kill Chain program, South Korea aims to detect impending missile attacks from North Korea and launch pre-emptive strikes.

North Korea keeps artillery and rocket tubes near the border, and is capable of delivering 5,200 rounds on Seoul in the first 10 minutes of war, military planners in South Korea say. The North also operates hundreds of missiles designed to hit South Korea and United States bases in Japan and beyond to deter American intervention should war break out.

The need to detect an impending strike has become more critical. North Korea has made its nuclear bombs small and light enough — weighing under 500 kilograms, or about 1,100 pounds — to be fitted onto its missiles, though it is still unclear whether they are fully weaponized, Mr. Song, the defense minister, said last week.

But detection has also become harder.

North Korea hides missiles in its many underground tunnels. Switching to solid fuel has made some of its missiles easier to transport and faster to launch. In recent years, North Korea also has flight-tested missiles from submarines, which are tougher to detect.

And the potential consequences are huge.

Miscalculation could prompt an unwarranted pre-emptive strike, which could start a regional nuclear war. Speaking to a United States congressional hearing in June, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., said, “We will see casualties, unlike anything we’ve seen in 60 or 70 years.”

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities are crucial, said Daniel A. Pinkston, a defense expert at the Seoul campus of Troy University. Without those capabilities, “they would be ‘shooting blind’ because the missile units could not identify the targets,” he added.

Last month, South Korea said it would launch five spy satellites into orbit from 2021 to 2023 to better monitor weapons movements in North Korea. In the interim, it is talking with countries like France and Israel to lease spy satellites. It also plans to introduce four American RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones by next year.

If pre-emptive attacks failed, South Korea would hope its Korea Air and Missile Defense would shoot down any rockets from the North.

South Korea is planning to upgrade its PAC-2 interceptor missiles for a better low-altitude defense. Last week, South Korea helped the United States military install a Thaad missile-defense battery, which intercepts enemy rockets at higher altitudes. For additional protection, South Korea is developing its own L-SAM interceptor missiles, as well as installing more early warning radars for ballistic missiles.

After the North’s latest nuclear test, South Korea fired its Hyunmoo-2 short-range ballistic missiles in a drill simulating an attack on the North’s test site. In July, the South’s military also released simulated images of Taurus bunker-buster missiles hitting the defense ministry in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. South Korea is buying 260 Taurus missiles from a German and Swedish joint venture.

The weapons are part of the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation plan. Under that program, South Korea would try to divide Pyongyang into several districts and wipe out the area where Kim Jong-un is believed to be hiding, defense analysts said.

Washington’s decision to lift the missile payload limits may allow South Korea to develop new Hyunmoo missiles capable of destroying weapons sites and leadership bunkers deep underground, said Shin Jong-woo at Korea Defense Forum, a Seoul-based network of military experts.

Mr. Shin said there was talk of building a Hyunmoo with a two-ton warhead.

The earlier restrictions barred South Korea from attaching a payload weighing more than half a ton to its Hyunmoo missile when the rocket had a range of up to 497 miles.

As word of South Korea’s new assassination plans has spread, Mr. Kim has used his deputies’ cars as decoys to move from place to place, South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers in June.

Still, many say they doubt that the threat is enough to deter Mr. Kim. Only the prospect of nuclear retaliation will suffice, they say.

“The balance of terror is the shortest cut to deterring war,” Yoon Sang-hyun, a conservative opposition lawmaker, told Parliament last Tuesday.


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