Roughly 1,800 U.S. service members, as well as several dozen fighter jets and other air defense implements, will be sent to Saudi Arabia to help protect the Kingdom amid heightened tensions with Iran, the Pentagon announced Friday. Officials said the U.S. is set to ship two F-15 squadrons, two Patriot missile batteries, one anti-missile defense system known as THADD and other planes. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said he informed Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman earlier Friday about the additional troops “to ensure and enhance the defense of Saudi Arabia.” “Saudi Arabia is a longstanding security partner in the Middle East and has asked for additional support to supplement their own defense and defend the international rules-based order,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. The Pentagon’s announcement came just hours after Iranian officials said two missiles from an undetermined source hit one of its oil tankers that was traveling through the Red Sea about 60 miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The explosions from the missiles damaged two storerooms aboard the oil tanker – identified as the Sibiti – and caused a brief oil leak into the Red Sea. The leak was later plugged, Iranian state television reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi described the incident as an “attack” carried out by those committing “dangerous adventurism.” He said the incident was under investigation. There has been no word from Saudi Arabia regarding the reported missile strikes. That incident comes amid fraught tensions and charges by the U.S. that Iran has attacked oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf — something denied by Tehran. Right now, there are roughly 250 U.S. troops deployed to Saudi Arabia and more than 60,000 U.S. troops deployed throughout the Middle East, both within various countries and aboard warships. This recent deployment is part of the response to the suspected Iranian missile and drone attack on Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14.
The Defense Department is seeking a “self-contained and free flying orbital outpost” to serve as a hub for experimentation and testing for the military’s 21st-century space program. In a request for proposals, the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) laid out its requirements for the outpost and suggested that the project could be a first step toward ultimately having military personnel on board. “The solution must be capable of supporting space assembly, microgravity experimentation, logistics and storage, manufacturing, training, test and evaluation, hosting payloads, and other functions,” the DIU said. Moving forward, the Pentagon said “desired future capabilities” of the project include attachment with other outposts in space, orbit transfer, and even “human-rating,” suggesting that the unit should be able to safely house humans. The solicitation for proposals comes as the Pentagon moves forward in establishing U.S. Space Command, a key component of President Trump’s desired Space Force. The Senate last week confirmed Gen. John Raymond to lead Space Command.
The U.S. Department of Defense is close to expanding its legendary future warfare and technology agency DARPA by combining it with the Pentagon office in charge of adapting existing weapons to new uses, people familiar with the plans said. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency would absorb the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) and centralize more research units under the Pentagon’s Chief Technology Officer Michael Griffin. The combination would end an experiment with SCO that began as an attempt to adapt to future threats quickly and with less bureaucracy. SCO reported directly to the defense secretary, removing it from traditional bureaucratic channels at the Pentagon. If all of SCO’s $1.3 billion 2020 budget request were transferred to DARPA, DARPA would gain control over 37 percent more funding on top of its 2020 funding request of $3.5 billion. The SCO is charged with developing unexpected and game-changing capabilities to counter emerging threats. The SCO has looked into projects like swarming small drones and transforming the Raytheon Co-made Standard Missile 6, a defensive weapon, into an offensive weapon. Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, initiatives including hypersonic weapons, lasers and space-based projects. Last year, Congress asked the Pentagon to explore how it could shut down the SCO or transfer its functions to another entity. On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee rolled out its proposals for a $750 billion 2020 defense budget.
President Trump has ordered the deployment of another 1,500 troops to the Middle East amid rising tensions with Iran. “We want to have protection,” Mr. Trump confirmed Friday to reporters at the White House. “We’ll be sending a relatively small number of troops. It’ll be about 1,500 people.” Mr. Trump has given his approval to acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan to deploy the additional troops to the Persian Gulf region to deter Iranian threats, after meeting with his military chiefs Thursday evening. But the number approved was smaller than the up to 10,000 troops previously reported, and — with some of the new troops already in the region — the net increase amounted to just 900. “Today, I informed Congress that I approved [U.S. Central Command’s] request for the deployment of additional resources and capabilities to the Middle East to improve our force protection and safeguard U.S. forces,” in the wake of Iranian threats, Mr. Shanahansaid in a statement Friday. The deployment represents “a prudent defensive measure and intended to reduce the possibility of future hostilities,” with Tehran and its regional allies, he added. The new tranche of American forces heading into the Middle East will include a military engineering unit, as well as Air Force fighter squadron, drone units and additional aerial intelligence aircraft, Joint Staff Director Vice Adm. Mike Gilday told reporters at the Pentagon. In addition, Pentagon leaders have extended the deployment of a 600-strong Army Patriot missile defense battalion, which had been sent into the Middle East earlier this month.
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The commander of U.S. forces in Latin America told Congress Wednesday that the military is developing plans to be immediately ready for any contingency if Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó ousts dictator Nicolás Maduro from power. Adm. Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command, told the House Armed Services Committee he believes it is only a matter of time before Guaidó, president of the country’s National Assembly, takes control. Guaidó encouraged Venezuelans to take to the streets starting Tuesday, saying that the final phase of “Operation Freedom” had begun. “[T]here is going to be a day when the legitimate government takes over, and it’s going to come when we least expect it,” said Faller. “And it could be right now, so we are calling it ‘day now’ planning.” Faller told the committee that repairing Venezuela’s dilapidated economic and energy infrastructure after years of corruption and mismanagement won’t be a sample task. “[T]he magnitude of the misery is going to require every element of international unity that currently exists,” he said. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., asked Faller if military planning includes contingencies involving the aftermath of a U.S. intervention in the country. Faller said the military is preparing for anything the president has said is on the table, adding that “we are on the balls of our feet.” He said he would prefer to disclose the details in a closed session of Congress. Trump has kept military options on the table since Venezuela’s political crisis began. In January, the United States and dozens of other Western nations recognized Guaidó as the country’s interim president. “The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said today in an interview on Fox Business Network. Venezuela’s political turmoil has been exacerbated by mass food shortages. The average Venezuelan has lost 20 pounds in the last year, Faller said, with 90 percent of people suffering from malnutrition. Responsibility for the continuing crisis “squarely rests on Cuba, Russia, and to some extent China,” the admiral told the committee. The Pentagon has estimated as many as 20,000 Cuban forces are supporting the Maduro regime. An unknown number of Russian military personnel and mercenaries are also believed to be in Venezuela, with 100 special advisers flying in recently. “It’s significant, and it’s contributing to the devastation,” said Faller. Trump threatened an embargo against Cuba yesterday. “If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete … embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba,” the president said in a pair of tweets. Government officials and experts have warned that the conflict in Venezuela could create an immigration crisis larger than that caused by the Syrian civil war. The United Nations estimates that about 3.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country, with 1.8 million leaving in 2018 alone.
The U.S. military is looking to develop and test more weapons it can blast into space to fire at targets on the surface of the earth. According to Defense One, the first plan on the agenda is a space laser that could be used to blow up enemy missiles “coming off the launch pad”. A study to see if this is feasible should wrap up within six months, but only takes up $15m of the total budget. Much of the rest of the cash is going to a project to develop space-based “particle beam” weapons. While lasers fire high-energy light at targets, particle beam weapons would accelerate a stream of subatomic particles to ludicrously high speeds and direct them at the target. While each particle only has a tiny mass, enough of them moving fast enough would be able to impart a serious amount of energy in a very short space of time. The U.S. first tested particle beam weapons in the late 1980s to some success, but the designs for a functional weapon were huge, with some reportedly over 70 feet long. “We now believe we can get it down to a package that we can put on as part of a payload to be placed on orbit,” according to a senior U.S. military official quoted by Defense One. The idea is that such weapons could be used to take out missiles very shortly after they launch, when they’re blasting up from their launch pads into the atmosphere. The current plan has such weapons being ready for testing in 2023. Some worry that if the U.S. developed and deployed these sorts of weapons it would push the likes of Russia and China into developing both missiles that would be resistant to the technology and weapons to take down the satellite weapons. The development of those new weapons result in “greatly increasing the threat to U.S. assets in space,” according to Kingston Reif, of the Arms Control Association. No country currently has any official space-based weapons, but plenty have been theorized. China has upgraded its space technology recently, with U.S. analysts suggesting they already have laser-based weapons capable of crippling American defenses.
Leaking pipes. Moldering walls. Condemned offices and balconies. Plumbing that can’t handle its load and a stormwater system dumping unfiltered rainwater into the Severn River. These aren’t the issues of a long-abandoned factory. They describe the current condition of the Naval Academy. Infrastructure at the naval institution in Annapolis has degraded to the point of threatening the school’s ability to train and educate midshipmen, according to a report by the Naval Audit Service. The 2018 audit, obtained by The Capital Gazette through a Freedom of Information Act request, details failing buildings, classrooms and athletic facilities — which in some cases actively leak, overheat and threaten user safety. Buildings including Nimitz Library and Macdonough Hall were built decades ago but never fully updated, causing critical systems to outlive their usefulness. Auditors fear the conditions jeopardize academy accreditation, endanger midshipmen and visitors, and violate several federal laws. The report took stock of 13 unfunded maintenance or renovation projects spread among 15 facilities between March 6, 2017, and April 26, 2018. Ten of these facilities are highly important to the academy mission, according to its internal rating system. But of those 10, four rated “poor to fair” and five rated “failing to poor” at supporting the academy’s ultimate goal — to ready midshipmen for naval service. The auditors found a maintenance backlog exacerbated by steep funding cuts after the Naval Academy lost its Flagship Institution designation to the 2013 federal budget sequester. The designation promised the academy funding for both regular repairs and major renovations. To dam the deluge of problems, the Navy restored the Flagship Institution designation for the academy, Naval Postgraduate School and Naval War College. The academy will get $15 million every other year, beginning in fiscal year 2020. The Navy will also support the maintenance budget at a higher level. “USNA concurs with the findings of the audit,” Cmdr. David McKinney, a Naval Academy spokesman, said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to addressing the discrepancies in the report and with additional funding look forward to ensuring the Naval Academy remains a modern Flagship Institution for the Navy.” The Naval Academy continues to do emergency maintenance — including recent repairs to the Bancroft Hall roof and the Leahy Hall roof that was blown off during a wind storm last year, said Ed Zeigler, a spokesman for Naval District Washington. But to fund large-scale infrastructure projects, the school competes for money against other projects in the Washington, D.C., Naval District. The academy submits projects to the district, which prioritizes and passes them on to Shore Mission Integration Group, a Navy body responsible for balancing priorities at sea and on the shore. Even with the new money, it would take years to address all of the problems listed in the audit.
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