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Thursday, November 30, 2017

#Veterans Military

#Veterans Military


Here’s What Soldiers Think Of The Army’s Brand New Handgun

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 01:03 PM PST

After months of waiting, the Army's brand new pistols are finally where they belong: in the hands of American soldiers.

On Nov. 28, the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, began fielding the M17 and M18 pistols picked up as the Army's new Modular Handgun System at the beginning of 2017. And for the first time, the new handgun is being issued to team leaders first, according to Military.com, a policy that will extend to all Army units who will receive the new sidearm over the next 10 months.

“This weapon is going to go down to the team leader, which is not what we typically have in the 101st or across most light divisions," 10st master gunner Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Flynn told Military.com. “We are putting this weapon into the hands of a lot of younger soldiers who have never fired it."

The Screaming Eagles are the first unit to get a hold new pistol during the branch's  equipping timeline — and so far, 25 soldiers with the 101st's 1st Brigade Combat Team who had first crack at the new sidearm all shared the same reaction — at least, according to the Army.

army modular handgun systemPhoto via DoD

The Army’s new Modular Handgun System, fresh out of the box at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on November 28, 2017

“It handled really well, very reliable,” C Company team leader Cpl. Jory Herrmann told Military.com. “We slung a lot of rounds down range today had little to no problems out of them."

"The pistol felt very natural in my hand." Col. Derek K. Thomson, the 1st Brigade Combat Team commander who oversaw the initial fielding, said in a statement. "The [101st] has always been at the cutting edge of battle, so it’s fitting they are the first to fire alongside these leaders today.”

Related: T&P’s Coverage Of The Modular Handgun System »

“The weapon itself is a very simple handgun; it’s a very easy handgun to shoot,” 1st Lt. Andrew Borer told Military.com, describing the first day of fielding as "a pretty awesome day."

“There is little to no resistance on the trigger," he added. "It’s a very easy weapon to regain our sight picture with and to aim and fire the weapon once we have put a round down range.”

Sgt. Matthew J. Marsh put it simpler in a statement: "It is easier to fire and simpler to operate."

army modular handgun systemPhoto via DoD

The Army’s new Modular Handgun System at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on November 28, 2017

We can't blame the 101st for being so damn excited over shiny new pistols. It's been a long time coming, with seemingly endless drama from the start of the Modular Handgun System competition that continued even after the contract was awarded in January to Sig Sauer.

Shortly after the Army announced the award, Sig's primary MHS rival Glock Inc. lodged a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, alleging that truncated testing favored the P320 over the company's 9mm Glock 19 and .40 caliber Glock 23. While the complaint was thrown out in May, another manufacturer, Steyr Arms, immediately launched legal proceedings against Sig over alleged patent infringement.

Reports of safety defects among the P320s sold to civilian law enforcement agencies may not sink the initial fielding in the relative order of Fort Campbell, but we'll see how well the new pistols hold up when put to the real test: in a firefight.

WATCH NEXT:

The post Here’s What Soldiers Think Of The Army’s Brand New Handgun appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Here’s What 10 Actual Veterans Say Is On Their EDC List

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 12:50 PM PST

“Everyday carry” is supposed to be just that: the stuff you always need, or wish you had, to tackle whatever life throws at you on a daily basis. Sure, loading up on EDC goodies can be about looking tacticool if you really want — a consumerist orgasm of virtue-signaling with “pieces of man-flair,” as T&P contributor Francis Horton put it in his recent coverage of sometime White House adviser and all-time military wannabe Sebastian Gorka’s EDC-themed cry for help. But for the rest of us, practicality might actually be a primary concern.

Related: Here's What It Looks Like When Your EDC List Is A Cry For Help »

If you wanna load down your pockets and go-bag with flashy gedunk that advertises your superior vigilance, knock yourself out. But some T&P readers — you know, actual vets — read our Gorka sendup and felt compelled to share what’s in their everyday carry. Get ready to compare notes:

1. The Regular Guy

Joe Plenzler, a Marine vet who works for the American Legion, is ready to do battle in any boardroom — in close quarters, if necessary, as evinced by the breath-improving gum. Also hat tip to him for inspiring the flood of photos we received.

2. The Recovering LT

Aaron Leong, a Naval Academy Marine, just can’t quit the tac pouches and government-issue inkstick. We all have our little vices.

3. The Overachiever/Discount Hound

True to form for a company grade officer, the Iron Capt. balances his electronics with a moto ID holder to house his bennies and discount cards. He saves money on snacks by hitting up Costco for protein bars. Lest you think he doesn’t rate all those corporate discounts, note the SmarTrip card marking him as a DC public transportation victim commuter. He’s earned what he has through his suffering.

4. The Closet Rip-It Fan

I don’t know if George Stankow’s Army service led him to buy a wallet with a built-in phone charger. All I know is he carries the best challenge coin I’ve seen in some time.

5. The Serious Animal Lover

Doggy poo bag, doggy hard treats, doggy soft treats, cat treats (which, if you have a dog, you know are like candy to puppers). Not sure what this former Army officer has done or seen, but always being ready to win over a random doggo seems like a good everyday skill to me.

6. The Simple-Things Appreciator

The only way this Army officer could enjoy his morning latte more is if Starbucks put it in his Camelbak before a PT run.

7. The Quality Personal Products Haver

Some gunnies want the finer things in life, like high-quality earbuds, premium lip balm, and even a bespoke “Nationals” DC Metro card. Whatever it takes to keep a gunny from going all gunny on me on the train.

8. The Office Headache Haver

This former Marine never knows when she’s going to need extra-strength Excedrin. Probably right after some d-bag on the train asks about her reading material, or a coworker tells her to “smile more.”

9. The Mediocre Jedi

What, no rocket pack? No shackled Han Solo? Screw “mediocre Jedi”: You’re not much of a bounty hunter, even.

10. The Unreformed Grunt

My only issues with this setup are (1) not enough dip and (2) you should really use Coke bottles for your spit and piss, so you can never mix them up with that sweet sweet Mountain Dew.

Got more photos of real vets’ EDC? Drop them in the comments below.

The post Here’s What 10 Actual Veterans Say Is On Their EDC List appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Here’s What We Know About North Korea’s ‘Most Powerful’ ICBM Yet

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 10:02 AM PST

After a months-long pause in its intercontinental ballistic missile tests, North Korea on Nov. 28 conducted the maiden launch of the Hwasong 15 — an ICBM that state media characterized as the rogue nation's "most powerful" missile yet, topped with a “super-large heavy warhead" and capable of striking the mainland United States. 

Although President Donald Trump had previously pledged to unleash "fire and fury" on North Korea should the regime in Pyongyang continue to advance its ICBM program, his tone was more restrained the day after the new launch. Trump pledged Nov. 29 to impose "additional major sanctions" on the totalitarian state after chatting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose government shapes the flow of economic and material aid to Pyongyang.

Trump and North Korean child emperor Kim Jong Un have done this dance before since the reality TV star was sworn in as POTUS, but the new launch poses a major challenge to the Department of Defense. The Hwasong 15 isn't just an evolutionary leap in first strike capabilities over the Hwasong 14 ICBM that Pyongyang first flaunted on July 4th; it's apparently terrifying enough to induce Hawaii to resume Cold War-era air raid drills.

So what's the deal with the Hwasong 15? Here's what we actually know.

1. The Hwasong 15 is taking North Korea's ICBM program to new heights… literally.

North Korea state TV claimed on Nov. 28 stated that the ICBM reached an altitude of 4,475 km (2,780 miles) after about 53 minutes of flight, far outstripping the Hwasong 14's initial altitude of around 2,800 km (1,741 miles) on July 4th and 3,700 km (2,299 miles) during its July 28th test, according to the CSIS Missile Defense Project.

For reference, that's an altitude 10 times higher than the International Space Station's, which orbits the planet at around 250 miles. (Nuclear experts tell Task & Purpose that an ICBM fired in anger, as opposed to a showy test, never reaches those altitudes, traveling a much flatter trajectory toward its target.)

hwasong 15 north korea ICBM nuclear programPhoto via KCNA

The Hwasong 15, North Korea’s newest ICBM, in its launch vehicle prior to its test flight on November 28, 2017

2. It can reach anywhere in the U.S.

Experts estimate that the older Hwasong 14 could have reached a maximum range of 10,000 km (6213.7 miles) if fired at a precise range-maximizing trajectory — far enough to reach the West Coast or even Chicago, should U.S. missile defenses fail to intercept.

The Hwasong 15, on the other hand, has a potential range of 13,000 km (8,100 miles) "if flown on a standard trajectory rather than this lofted trajectory," according to an assessment by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

While the Japanese government said on Nov. 28 that the Hwasong 15 traveled only 800 km (500 miles) before splashing down in the Sea of Japan, its projected range means North Korea now has an ICBM with a range that can threaten American metropolises like New York City and Washington — "everywhere in the world, basically," as Secretary of Defense James Mattis bluntly told media assembled at the White House on Nov. 28.

hwasong 15 north korea ICBM nuclear programPhoto via Center for Strategic & International Studies

The estimated ranges of North Korea’s various ballistic missiles, excluding the Hwasong 15 ICBM launched on Nov. 28, 2017

3. Is it nuclear-capable yet? Possibly.

A confidential report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, obtained and reviewed by the Washington Post in August, suggested that Pyongyang had finally managed to develop a miniaturized nuclear warhead capable of fitting atop a long-range ballistic missile, with Kim Jong Un sitting on a stockpile of several dozen nukes. Then again, the DIA made literally the exact same assessment in 2013, so it's unclear how good their defense intelligence on the matter really is (sorry, guys!).

Related: US Intelligence: North Korea Finally Has Nukes That Can Fit Onto ICBMs »

According to Reuters, most nuclear experts believe that North Korea "has yet to prove it has mastered all technical hurdles" of miniaturizing a launch-ready nuclear warhead. Even if Pyongyang did manage to perfect the process, there's still the matter of actually delivering its "heavy warhead" to its destination from an exoatmospheric altitude.

Pyongyang claims the Hwasong 15 reentry vehicle is "impeccable," but international observers aren't totally convinced. "It remains unclear how heavy a payload the missile was carrying, and if it could carry a large nuclear warhead far enough to strike the United States," Reuters reports. "It also remains unclear whether the North Koreans have perfected a re-entry vehicle capable of protecting a nuclear warhead during its descent."

4. Can we defend against it?

Hell yeah, we can! Theoretically, at least. While the maximum range and altitude of the U.S.'s key continental missile defenses, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, aren't disclosed by the Pentagon, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency conducted a successful intercept in late May 2017. And with a major influx of funding in the wake of North Korea's missile tests (to $40 billion in 2017 from $30 billion a decade earlier), the system will hopefully only improve.

But ICBMs may pose a problem for regional partners operating under mobile U.S. missile defense platforms like the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense. The THAAD systems, which the U.S. has deployed in South Korea since May to safely intercept incoming ICBMs, only have a range of 200 km (124 miles), narrowing the window for a successful intercept.

5. Now what?

Well, South Korea is clearly pissed: The military announced that it would conduct a "precision" missile strike in response to Pyongyang's ICBM test, and the country's ministry of defense quickly published footage of a salvo of three missiles that lit up the skies above Seoul. Trump, by contrast, had a subdued statement. "I will only tell you we will take care of it," he told reporters on Nov. 28, calling the new launch a "situation we will handle."

Their respective reactions are no surprise: The Hwasong 15 wasn't just North Korea's 15th missile test of the year, but a clear challenge to the U.S. amid escalating tensions.

"They want us to know they can hit the Eastern Seaboard," Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert at MIT, tweeted after the launch on Nov. 28. "It's real folks."

WATCH NEXT:

The post Here's What We Know About North Korea's 'Most Powerful' ICBM Yet appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Now That ISIS Is Routed, What Happens To All The Weapons The US Gave Syrian Fighters?

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 09:42 AM PST

American weapons and equipment used by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against ISIS will need to be returned to the United States once the war is over because they were loaned — not given — to the group, the White House says. But details on when the recovery process will begin, and how it will be executed in a country embroiled in a bloody six-year civil war, remain very murky, raising skepticism among those familiar with the Pentagon's long history of losing track of lethal machinery it lends to foreign troops.    

The U.S. began arming members of the SDF — an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias considered rebels by the Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian regime — in May 2017 as part of a strategy authorized by President Donald Trump. The plan was adamantly opposed by Turkey, a NATO ally, which has been applying increasing pressure on the U.S. to withdraw support from the group altogether. Turkey deems the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a primary component of the SDF, a terrorist organization.  

Pentagon officials said in May that arms supplied to the SDF — a $1 billion arsenal that included heavy machine guns, Humvees, and thousands of new M4 rifles, the same weapons wielded in combat by American troops — would be closely tracked as they flowed into war-torn Syria. But the region was already notorious for disappearances of U.S.-procured arms; a 2015 Amnesty report found that, "much of ISIS' equipment and munitions comes from stockpiles captured from the U.S.-allied Iraqi military and Syrian rebels," according to CNN.  

Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon tweeted from Baghdad in June that the Pentagon had devised a system to ensure that "every single one of these weapons that will be provided to our partner forces will be accounted for and pointed at #ISIS." But the system he described doesn't seem that sophisticated — or at least not sophisticated enough for the monumental task of retrieving weapons from an armed group fighting a three-way war with Turkey, ISIS, and the Syrian regime.

Dillon said that before they received their weapons from coalition trainers, SDF fighters would go through a vetting process and then sign a documented agreement to "fight only ISIS and uphold the laws of armed conflict." Additionally, U.S. military commanders would "sign for, by serial number, all the equipment that we are giving and we'll maintain that in our database," Dillon said, adding that the weapons would be tracked by coalition forces on the battlefield.

Such methods have proven not so effective in the past. A 2016 investigation by London-based charity Action on Armed Violence, which monitors weapons proliferation and violence against civilians, concluded that DoD officials only had records for less than half of the 1.5 million firearms the Pentagon had funneled into the hands of foreign troops in Iraq and Afghanistan over the previous 14 years.   

The U.S. has worked closely with the YPG, the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party, since at least 2014, when ISIS rampaged across the region, seizing key cities on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. A coalition-backed offensive spearheaded by the SDF has succeeded in driving ISIS out of all of its major strongholds in Syria, including its de facto capital Raqqa, which was wrested from the terror group's control in October 2017. It is believed that the ISIS ranks have dwindled down to 3,000 fighters from a peak strength of 45,000, according to Al-Monitor.

On Nov. 27, a top Turkish diplomat announced that Trump had finally acceded to pressure from his government, promising in a recent phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey that the U.S. would stop backing Syrian Kurds. However, when asked by a reporter the following day if the U.S. was "backing away from its previous support of a partner in the fight against ISIS," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders seemed to imply that wasn't the case.   

"No," Sanders replied. "Look, once we started winning the campaign against ISIS, the plan and part of the process is to always wind down support for certain groups. Now that we're continuing to crush the physical caliphate, that we're in a position to stop providing military equipment to certain groups. But that doesn't mean stopping all support of those individual groups."

Meanwhile, as Al-Monitor notes, the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act allocates "another $500 million to the fight against [ISIS] in Syria until next September." That money will reportedly go arming an additional 5,000 coalition-allied troops, including Syrian Kurds, with AK-47s, heavy machine guns, and sniper rifles, while $21 million more will pay for their stipends.

Some of the $500 million will reportedly also be spent on building temporary facilities to securely store arms and ammunition.

The post Now That ISIS Is Routed, What Happens To All The Weapons The US Gave Syrian Fighters? appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Allegations Of Child Abuse Against Marine Colonel Date Back 15 Years

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 05:30 AM PST

Editor's Note: This article by Hope Hodge Seck originally appeared on Military.com, the premier source of information for the military and veteran community.

A colonel forced into retirement after court-martial proceedings last year has just been arrested again on new charges. But the most recent allegations against him detail criminal misbehavior dating back to 2002, Military.com has learned.

Todd Shane Tomko, 54, was arrested in Quincy, Illinois, on Nov. 22 on seven outstanding felony warrants from the Virginia Beach Police Department.

A 33-year Marine officer and former commander of the Wounded Warrior Regiment, he was sentenced to two months in the brig last year after pleading guilty to sending sexual text messages to a female enlisted subordinate, obtaining and using testosterone without a prescription, and driving drunk to his own arraignment aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

Master Police Officer Linda Kuehn, a spokeswoman for the department, told Military.com Tuesday that the charges against Tomko include three counts of aggravated sexual battery, three counts of indecent liberties with a child, and one count of felony cruelty to children.

The crimes were alleged to have been committed in Virginia Beach from the year 2002 to present, Kuehn said. The allegations involve three juvenile victims “who were known to the suspect,” she added.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Britain’s Prince Harry, second from right, accompanied by then first lady Michelle Obama, left, Jill Biden, second from left, and Marine Sgt. Roderic Liggens of Washington, center, greets Marine Col. Shane Tomko of Quincy, Ill. as he tours the USO Warrior and Family Center at the Fort Belvoir military base, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015 in Fort Belvoir, Va.

The warrants, Kuehn said, were obtained Nov. 21. Tomko is expected to be transferred soon from Quincy to Virginia Beach so the warrants can be formally served and the adjudication process can begin.

The newly revealed scope of the allegations also raises questions about whether the military will opt to be involved in Tomko’s prosecution moving forward. The military has the right to call service members out of retirement to face court-martial, whether or not the alleged offenses occurred during or after the service member’s time in uniform.

This is an extraordinarily rare move, and typically reserved for high-profile officers and cases. But the measure was taken earlier this year in the case of James Grazioplene, a 68-year-old retired major general who was made to face court-martial after 12 years of retirement on allegations that he raped a child while on active duty in the 1980s. Grazioplene’s trial has yet to take place.

A Marine Corps spokesman, Maj. Brian Block, said Naval Criminal Investigative Service officials were still learning the details of Tomko’s case.

“It’s probably to early to say one way or the other” whether the military will take action, Block said.

If Tomko is prosecuted in a civilian court alone, he may still stand to lose some military benefits. While retired pay is generally unaffected by a felony conviction, VA benefits can be reduced if a retiree is convicted and spends more than 60 days behind bars.

More from Military.com: 

The post Allegations Of Child Abuse Against Marine Colonel Date Back 15 Years appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Fallen Navy Pilot ‘Flew The Hell Out Of That Plane’ And Saved Lives

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 05:13 AM PST

Navy Lt. Steven Combs determined an emergency landing of his transport plane on the choppy waters of the Philippine Sea was necessary as the aircraft he was piloting failed only miles from the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan, according to Navy officials.

The 28-year-old pilot's decision to land the C-2A Greyhound on the water ultimately saved the lives of eight of the 11 people aboard the aircraft, Combs' co-pilot told Navy investigators probing the Nov. 22 crash. Combs, Seaman Matthew Chialastri and Seaman Apprentice Bryan Grosso were declared dead in the crash after their bodies were not recovered during a three-day search.

"Lt. Combs' co-pilot was effusive in his praise. He said, 'He flew the hell out of that plane,'" Navy Cmdr. Ronald Flanders, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces, told Stars and Stripes. "It was heroic. A remarkable piece of flying that was instrumental in saving eight lives."

The Navy is considering a posthumous award for Combs' actions, Flanders added.

Those final actions, which allowed rescuers to retrieve the eight survivors within 45 minutes of the crash, did not surprise people who knew Combs best, the pilot's sister Elizabeth Combs told reporters after his death.

"Even in his last moment, he was looking out for others. I wouldn't have expected anything less," she said of her brother, according to the Berkshire Eagle, a newspaper in Pittsfield, Massachusetts where they grew up. "We are so, so proud of him."

Combs commissioned into the Navy in 2011 after graduating from the University of Colorado and was assigned to the Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30 and the Reagan as part of Carrier Air Wing Five, according to the Navy.

U.S. Navy photos

From left, U.S. Navy Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Apprentice, Bryan Grosso, Lt. Steven Combs, and Aviation Boatswain's Mate Airman Matthew Chialastri

Elizabeth Combs and friends of the fallen sailor described him as an athletic, fun-loving man who'd grew up dreaming of flying airplanes. He especially loved downhill skiing, and competed in the sport growing up, she said.

"He was a blast to be around and had a great sense of humor. He was always laughing," Brian Pedrotti, Combs' childhood friend, told Fox 13 News. "Whatever he put his mind to he could do, and he never stopped until his goals were complete."

Chialastri was an aviation boatswain's mate from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was a 2013 graduate of Woodlawn High School, where he was the valedictorian of his class, according to the school.

His Junior ROTC instructor at the school described him as loyal and dependable, telling the New Orleans' newspaper The Advocate that Chialastri quickly made an impression as a freshman in the program and was leading older students before he left the program his sophomore year to focus on his studies.

"He was just that good and he knew how to talk to them so it was never an issue of them getting mad or upset," retired Sgt. 1st Class Jill Pearl said, adding she was proud when he enlisted in the Navy.

Grosso, an aviation ordnanceman, had only recently completed initial Navy training and joined the Reagan's crew, according to the Navy. He was a 2017 graduate of West Florida High School in Pensacola, Florida where he played lacrosse.

Justin Luciano, his high school coach, described him as a "really good kid."

"He was fun loving," Luciano told the Pensacola News Journal. "Every time I saw him in the hallways he was laughing, joking having fun. There was always a smile on his face."

One of Grosso's naval instructors wrote she had "high hopes" for his career, in a public Facebook post.

"You stood out … because you were such a good person, acted very mature and had a big heart," Petty Officer 1st Class Justine Chanelle Ramos wrote. "You're a great sailor and a friend to all of us, you will always be in our hearts and thoughts. May God give your family the strength for the loss, I cannot imagine the pain everyone is going through right now."

It remains unclear precisely what caused the aircraft to fail about 500 miles southeast of Okinawa on a routine flight from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni to the Ronald Reagan during a joint exercise with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, Flanders said.

It appears the C-2, which is designed to carry people and cargo, suffered a rare double engine failure, two Navy officials told Stars and Stripes on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation. The officials said it was unclear what would have caused the engines to fail.

C-2s have been in service since the 1960s, but have a remarkable safety record, Flanders said.

The Nov. 22 crash was the first fatal C-2 crash since 1980, when the Naval Safety Center began collecting data on such incidents. Flanders said, in that time, the turbo-prop aircraft has only had four incidents characterized as Class A mishaps, which include damage of more than $2 million or a fatality.

"This is one of the safest aircraft, if not the safest, in naval aviation," he said. "An incident like this – it's almost unheard of."

There was no record of any pilot previously attempting to land a C-2 on water under the conditions that Combs did last week, one of the unnamed officials said.

While pilots train to handle emergency situations, it is difficult to simulate certain situations, such as the ones that Combs and his co-pilot experienced, Flanders said.

"It took a great deal of skill and poise to do what he did," he said.

The Reagan held a memorial service Saturday to commemorate the sailors who died last week. During the service, Combs' commander recalled the late pilot's life-saving actions.

"The loss of one of our pilots weighs heavily on the entire Carrier Air Wing Five team. Lt. Combs will always be remembered as a hero," said Capt. Michael Wosje, the commander of the Reagan's Carrier Air Wing 5, according to a Navy statement. "I am proud to have flown with him."

———

©2017 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The post Fallen Navy Pilot ‘Flew The Hell Out Of That Plane’ And Saved Lives appeared first on Task & Purpose.

N Korea Fires Most Powerful Missile Yet, Claims US Mainland Now In Its Sights

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 05:00 AM PST

North Korea declared Wednesday that it has achieved its long-sought goal of becoming a nuclear power after firing a powerful new missile it said could hit any point in the United States, dealing a new challenge to President Donald Trump.

The launch shattered more than two months of relative calm and came just over a week after Trump put the North back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism. The U.S., South Korea, Japan and the United Nations chief strongly condemned the provocation and urged the North to halt its weapons program.

In recent months, Trump has threatened to unleash "fire and fury" and to "totally destroy" the communist state if needed to defend the homeland or its allies. His tone was more muted after Wednesday's test.

"I will only tell you that we will take care of it," the president told reporters at the White House, where he was holding a budget meeting with Republican congressional leaders. "It is a situation that we will handle."

The intercontinental ballistic missile, which was fired at a steep angle from an area north of Pyongyang, flew for more than 50 minutes. It traveled nearly 600 miles and reached an altitude of up to 2,800 miles before crashing into the sea off the coast of Japan, military officials said.

North Korea gave roughly the same distances, which were farther than ICBMs launched on July 4 and July 28.

Photo via KCNA/Associated Press

An undated picture released by North Koreas Korean Central News Agency on March 7

"It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at a White House meeting with Trump. "The bottom line is it is a continued effort to build a ballistic missile threat that endangers world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States."

Defiant Message

It was the first missile test since Sept. 15 and sent a clear message of defiance against Trump's campaign to isolate the regime by punishing it with tough economic sanctions and pressuring its main ally, China, to withdraw its support.

North Korea put its famous TV anchor, Ri Chun Hee, wearing her trademark pink and black traditional dress, on the air to declare the test a success.

She read a government statement claiming the new Hwasong-15 had improved on capabilities demonstrated by two ICBMs launched in July and could be armed with a "super-large heavy nuclear warhead" that could strike the "whole U.S. mainland."

She also said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom Trump has mocked as "little rocket man," had observed the launch and "declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power."

The North also reiterated its insistence that its aim is to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity from "U.S. imperialists."

Unlike past years when Pyongyang was usually believed to be exaggerating its claims of advances, experts agreed it has made surprisingly swift progress toward its goal of developing a nuclear-capable missile that could target the U.S. mainland.

The communist state already is believed to have the ability to strike South Korea and U.S. bases elsewhere in the region with an arsenal of conventional weapons and tens of thousands of soldiers massed near the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula.

David Wright, an arms-control expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the results from Wednesday's test suggested that the missile would have a range of more than 8,100 miles if fired on a standard trajectory.

"Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C., and in fact any part of the continental United States," he said in a statement.

Photo via Rodong Sinmun

North Korea’s July 28 launch of the Hwasong-14.

However, he said it was likely the North Koreans used a mock warhead that was lighter than the real thing to increase the range.

"If true, that means it would be incapable of carrying a nuclear warhead to this long distance, since such a warhead would be much heavier," he said.

Kim Tae-woo, a military studies professor at South Korea's Konyang University, said the North Koreans appear to have mastered the technology needed to attack the U.S., but he doesn't believe they will do so.

"This is kind of a game, brinkmanship diplomacy. That doesn't mean that North Korea is ready to go to war against a superpower," he said in a telephone interview. "North Korea in fact wants to acquire a lot of concessions from the U.S."

The adversaries have been locked in a standoff since the North Koreans began pursuing nuclear weapons after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

Washington insists it will never accept the North as a nuclear power while Pyongyang maintains its nuclear program is not up for negotiation.

However, U.S. officials have suggested the idea of direct talks with North Korea if it showed restraint.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson strongly condemned the launch but said in a statement that "diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now."

Olympic Worries

Key U.S. ally South Korea responded by firing from a land-based missile battery off the peninsula's east coast along with strikes from a fighter jet and a navy destroyer minutes after the North Korean missile took flight.

"This training shows that our military is watching North Korea's military trends 24 hours a day and … can strike precisely anytime on the ground, at sea and in the air in case of provocations," the military said on its Facebook page.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, meanwhile, warned the government won't tolerate such provocations and urged the North to return to dialogue as he convened an emergency National Security Council meeting.

He also told officials to try to prevent any negative effect on the Olympics, which begin on Feb. 9 in the South Korean resort area of Pyeongchang, just 50 miles south of the border. The International Olympic Committee has promised the games will be safe amid concern that security fears may hurt attendance.

Moon, who has pursued a policy of engagement with the North and vowed never to allow another war on the divided peninsula, also expressed concern that the growing threat from the North may cause Trump to strike militarily.

"If North Korea completes a ballistic missile that could travel from one continent to another, the situation could spiral out of control," he said, according to a transcript provided by his office.

U.S. and Japanese officials had been expecting another test since radio signals indicated the North Koreans were preparing for a launch, but the timing just a few hours after midnight local time took many surprise.

Japan tracked the missile but didn't try to destroy it or initiate a public-warning system because there was no imminent threat to the population or territory, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. He added that no damage to ships or airplanes had been reported.

North Korea had accelerated its nuclear weapons program, launching about 20 missiles earlier this year, including one it said could have reached the United States.

On Sept. 3, the North detonated what was widely believed to be a hydrogen bomb and has threatened to conduct a test over the Pacific.

But it suspended those tests in September after a missile flew over Japan's Hokkaido Island on Sept. 15.

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©2017 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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