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The Emergency Worker Behind Hawaii’s False Missile Alert Actually Thought The US Was Under Attack

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 03:40 PM PST

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency worker who triggered panic by sending a false ballistic missile alert to phones across the state on Jan. 13 believed the state was actually under attack, according to a preliminary investigation released today by the Federal Communications Commission.

Gov. David Ige and HI-EMA officials, in several public explanations on the false alarm, have never revealed that the agency "warning officer" actually thought a missile attack was imminent, instead saying that he pushed the "wrong button" or selected the wrong option from a drop-down computer menu.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and staff discussed the Jan. 13 event in a preliminary report during this morning's commission meeting in Washington, D.C. While a final report has yet to be issued, their initial probe has revealed that poor planning, inadequate technology and a series of errors from multiple people contributed to and exacerbated the button pusher's mistake.

According to the FCC findings presented in Washington today, a shift supervisor initiated a drill of the missile alert system by pretending to be U.S. Pacific Command and played a recorded message over the phone.

"The recording began by saying "exercise, exercise, exercise," language that is consistent with the beginning of the script for the drill," according to the FCC investigator. "After that, however, the recording did not follow the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency's standard operating procedures for this drill. Instead, the recording included language scripted for use in an Emergency Alert System message for an actual live ballistic missile alert. It thus included the sentence "this is not a drill." The recording ended by saying again, "exercise, exercise, exercise."

"According to a written statement from the day shift warning officer who initiated the alert, as relayed to the Bureau by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the day shift warning officer heard 'this is not a drill' but did not hear 'exercise, exercise, exercise,' " the FCC reported. "According to the written statement, this day shift warning officer therefore believed that the missile threat was real. At 8:07 a.m., this officer responded by transmitting a live incoming ballistic missile alert to the state of Hawaii."

The male warning officer, HI-EMA officials revealed last week, is not cooperating with either the FCC or internal investigations into the Jan. 13 event.

FCC Report by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd

Pai said in a statement, "In my view, here are the two most troubling things that our investigation has found so far: (1) Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency didn't have reasonable safeguards in place to prevent human error from resulting in the transmission of a false alert; and (2) Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency didn't have a plan for what to do if a false alert was transmitted."

"Every state and local government that originates alerts needs to learn from these mistakes," Pai continued. "Each should ensure that it has adequate safeguards in place to prevent the transmission of false alerts, and each should have a plan in place for how to immediately correct a false alert."

"The public needs to be able to trust that when the government issues an emergency alert, it is indeed a credible alert. Otherwise, people won't take alerts seriously and respond appropriately when a real emergency strikes and lives are on the line," Pai said.

Pai and FCC staff discussed the Jan. 13 event and the preliminary report during this morning's open commission meeting in Washington. While a final report has yet to be issued, so far, their probe has revealed that poor planning, inadequate technology and a series of errors from multiple people contributed to and exacerbated the button pusher's mistake.

FCC investigators identified the following key errors:

  • Miscommunication between the HI-EMA's midnight shift supervisor and the day shift supervisor resulted in a drill being run without adequate supervision.
  • The midnight shift supervisor started the drill by playing a recording that deviated from the agency's drill script because it incorrectly included the words, "This is not a drill."
  • The day shift warning officer who triggered the false alarm said in his written report that he failed to recognize the exercise was a drill because he had not heard the script words, "exercise, exercise, exercise," although other warning officers had.
  • When the false alarm was happening, HI-EMA did not have any procedures that required warning officers to double check with a colleague before double-clicking a live-alert prompt, which did not offer the warning officer an opportunity to review the text.
  • The state conducted an atypical number of "no-notice drills," increasing the potential for error.
  • Alert-origination software didn't differentiate between tests and live alerts and wasn't hosted on separate domains or applications.
  • HI-EMA's reliance on stored templates made it too easy for the warning officer to click through the alert origination without sufficient focus.
  • HI-EMA had not anticipated the possibility of issuing a false alert and wasn't prepared to issue a correction.
  • HI-EMA was overwhelmed by calls, some of which didn't get through.
  • Gov. David Ige delayed sending out social media notification because he forgot his Twitter password.

The FCC said it was pleased that the agency already has taken steps to ensure that a similar incident never happens again, but said "there is more work to be done."

At today's hearing in Washington, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said the false ballistic missile alert in Hawaii should be a "wake up call for all stakeholders involved in emergency communications."

"We cannot simply dismiss this as being an inadvertent mistake that only public officials and Hawaii need to address," Clyburn said. "This incident should serve as a catalyst to review their emergency alert process. Every community should be doing more to prevent an issuance of a false alert."

Clyburn said if and when a false alert is ever sent again, "the technical capability to immediately send a correction should be in place and the protocols on how to go about that should be clearly defined."

———

©2018 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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The post The Emergency Worker Behind Hawaii’s False Missile Alert Actually Thought The US Was Under Attack appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Vietnam Marine Veteran Could Get Medal Of Honor After Presidential Order

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 03:15 PM PST

Almost exactly 50 years after he fearlessly led Marines through the bloody street fighting in Hue, Marine veteran John Canley is close to receiving the nation's highest military award for valor.

President Donald Trump signed a law on Monday night that allows him to award Canley the Medal of Honor. The law waives a requirement that service members receive the Medal of Honor within five years of the events that merit the award.

Now that Trump is authorized to present the award to Canley, the president must decide whether the retired sergeant major will receive the Medal of Honor.

Canley has already received the Navy Cross for his actions from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, 1968, in Hue. A gunnery sergeant at the start of the Tet Offensive, Canley led his Marines after his company commander was seriously wounded, according to his award citation, posted at the Military Times Hall of Valor.

He braved intense enemy fire to save wounded Marines, regrouped his company, and led a counter-attack to break through an enemy stronghold, the citation says. Later, he dropped a satchel charge on the enemy, killing many fighters. Even though he was wounded more than once during the fighting, Canley twice leaped a wall in full view of the enemy to move wounded Marines to cover.

U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, the California Democrat who wrote the legislation that allows Canley to receive the Medal of Honor, called the retired Marine a "true American hero and a shining example of the kind of gallantry and humility that makes our armed forces the best military in the world."

Brownley introduced her bill after Defense Secretary James Mattis sent her a letter in December saying that he supported upgrading Canley's Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor, but Congress needed to waive the five-year limit before further action could be taken.

"Once legislation is enacted authorizing the President of the United States, if he so chooses, to award Sergeant Major Canley the Medal of Honor, I will provide my endorsement to the President," Mattis wrote.

"The final award authority for the Medal of Honor rests solely with the President," the defense secretary added. "My favorable determination in no way presumes what the President’s decision might be."

Canley will be Brownley's guest Tuesday when Trump delivers his State of the Union speech, the congresswoman said in a Monday news release.

"This honor is for all of the Marines with whom I served," Canley said in the news release. "They are an inspiration to me to this day. I also want to thank Congresswoman Brownley and her staff, especially Laura Sether, for their effort and work to make this happen."

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The post Vietnam Marine Veteran Could Get Medal Of Honor After Presidential Order appeared first on Task & Purpose.

The Pentagon Doesn’t Want You To Know Just How Well The Taliban Are Doing

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 03:09 PM PST

The federal watchdog responsible for tracking how American tax dollars are being spent in Afghanistan claimed in a new report that the Department of Defense is deliberately attempting to obscure the extent to which the Taliban and other insurgent groups in the country are flourishing even amid the intensifying U.S.-led military campaign to batter them into submission.

In its January 2018 quarterly report to Congress, the Office of the Special Inspector General Investigator for Afghanistan Reconstruction  (SIGAR) indicated that the massive amount of ordnance deployed — October 2017 saw more American bombs dropped in Afghanistan during any month since 2012, when there were more than five times the number of U.S. service members in the country than there are now — and expanding the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan, have done little, if anything, to break the stalemate.

However, because of the Pentagon's refusal to fully cooperate with SIGAR, the SIGAR report does not include what is perhaps the most digestible metric for assessing progress in America's longest-running war: data showing how much of the country the U.S.-backed Afghan government currently controls or influences compared to how much is controlled or influenced by insurgents.

SIGAR called the DoD's efforts to reduce transparency "troubling for a number of reasons," stating in the report that "this is the first time SIGAR has been specifically instructed not to release information marked 'unclassified' to the American taxpayer."

Congress has appropriated roughly $120.9 billion for Afghanistan relief and reconstruction since 2002, and President Donald Trump has stated in no uncertain terms that he is fully committed to winning the war. Over the summer, military officials, including Mattis, persuaded the president that the impasse could be broken by ramping back up America's involvement in the war.

A breakdown of which districts the Afghan government controls compared to insurgents is now public, thanks in part to NPR, which specifically requested it from the DoD prior to the report's release.

"As of October 2017, approximately 56% of the country's 407 districts are under Afghan government control or influence, 30% remain contested, and approximately 14% are now under insurgent control or influence," Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, a U.S. military spokesman, told NPR. This means, according to NPR, that the Afghan government "controls or influences about 1 percent fewer of the districts compared to the last quarter, and insurgent control or influence about 1 percent more,"

In November 2015, more than a year after U.S. troop levels dropped below 10,000, the Afghan government controlled or influenced 72% of the districts. The number of U.S. service members deployed to Afghanistan is expected to soon reach 15,000.

Hours after both the SIGAR report and the NPR article were published, the U.S.-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan issued a statement calling the gag order a mistake. "It was NOT the intent of Resolute Support to withhold or classify information which was available in prior reports," Gresback told Associated Press in an email. "A human error in labeling occurred."

But despite Gresback's "human error" claim, other previously available information — such as numbers illustrating the size and battlefield performance of Afghan forces, including casualty figures — are now unavailable to the American public. That data is also crucial to understanding whether or not the current U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan — building an Afghan military powerful and cohesive enough to one day assume full responsibility for the country's national security — is actually succeeding or not.

After more than 16 years of trial and error, the Pentagon appears confident that it has finally found a winning formula under Trump, who has made it a point to distinguish his approach to the war in Afghanistan from that of his predecessors, both of whom relied much more heavily on conventional military forces to hold ground and inspire loyalty among the civilians who inhabit the battlefield. "We are not nation building again," Trump vowed in August. "We are killing terrorists."

To accelerate the bloodletting, the president granted Mattis the authority to tweak the rules of engagement and increase troop levels by several thousand. The Pentagon now has the freedom to flex its muscles after years of feeling constrained by the more diplomacy-oriented policies of President Barack Obama. A failure in Afghanistan under Trump would undercut the prevailing theory among military commanders that meddling politicians and arbitrary timetables are largely to blame for their inability to effectively prosecute the war. In other words, there is a lot more at stake for the Pentagon in Afghanistan than Afghanistan itself.    

Executing this magic strategy has naturally fallen on the shoulders of the U.S. Special Operations Command, which has used its newfound freedom to push its troops closer to the front lines in order to bolster the beleaguered Afghan national security forces with tactical expertise and an abundance of precision firepower. SOCOM is also spearheading the counterrorism campaign to defeat an offshoot of the Islamic State, dubbed ISIS-K, which has established a firm foothold in eastern Afghanistan. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a recent 60 Minutes interview that there are currently "21 international terrorist groups" currently operating in his country.   

The strategy has resulted in a significant uptick in American airstrikes targeting not just Taliban militants and other anti-government forces, but also their sources of illicit revenue — namely, Afghanistan's multibillion dollar opium harvest, which surged in the wake of the 2001 invasion and now produces roughly 80% of the world's heroin. In its January report, SIGAR cast serious doubt on the Pentagon's recent claims that those counternarcotics efforts — which last year cost the American taxpayer $8.7 billion — are paying off.    

"Afghanistan's total area under opium cultivation and opium production reached an all-time high in 2017," the report states. SIGAR cited a November 2017 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), which found that opium cultivation expanded  by 63% from the previous year and now encompasses an area nearly the size of Rhode Island.

Until recently, Trump's strategy seemed to hinge on the prediction that the Taliban would eventually buckle under the constant barrage of coalition airstrikes and special operations raids and come to the negotiating table. That no longer appears to be the case. On Jan. 29, two days after a Taliban car-bombing killed more than 100 people in Kabul, the president signaled that the total defeat of the insurgent group is now the only acceptable option.

"When we see what they're doing and the atrocities that they're committing, and killing their own people, and those people are women and children, many, many women and children that are totally innocent, it is horrible," he said. "So there's no talking to the Taliban. We don't want to talk to the Taliban. We're going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we're going to be able to do it."

The post The Pentagon Doesn't Want You To Know Just How Well The Taliban Are Doing appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Elon Musk’s Flamethrower Is Now Available For Pre-Order

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 12:51 PM PST

Elon Musk is officially selling a flamethrower to civilians for $500.
Yes, this is completely true. You can pre-order one right here.
Check out the video below to learn more and see it in action.

The post Elon Musk’s Flamethrower Is Now Available For Pre-Order appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Another Marine Is Gunning To Become The Corps’ First Female Special Operator

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 12:20 PM PST

A 25-year-old female sergeant is nearing the end of the first phase of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command training, a Corps official confirmed on Tuesday.

If her scores are high enough to continue training, she will be the first woman to attempt the second phase of the assessment and selection process of the Raider pipeline.

The female Marine, who has a food service military occupational specialty, began training on Jan. 16 and her class is expected to complete phase one during the week of Feb. 5, said MARSOC spokesman Maj. Nick Mannweiler. Phase two begins on Feb. 10.

"Every candidate is treated the same with respect to standards and personal and professional progress, so I won’t comment at this time on the sergeant’s specific performance," Mannweiler told Task & Purpose on Tuesday.

Military.com first reported on Tuesday that the female sergeant had progressed most of the way through the first phase of the assessment and selection process.

It takes 268 training days to turn Marines into Raiders. The first phase of training lasts 21 days and includes running 12 miles in less than three hours while wearing 45-pound packs — not including water and food — and carrying a rubber rifle without a sling; swimming 300 meters in less than 13 minutes while wearing a camouflage uniform; and land navigation.

MARSOC is not identifying the female Marine, who is the third woman to attempt the assessment and selection process, Mannweiler said. A female staff sergeant was unable to complete phase one, and a female corporal completed all 21 days of training but her scores were not high enough to allow her to continue to the 19-day second phase.

"Candidates who fail to complete Phase I are welcome to make up to three attempts, provided they meet our time in grade and time in service requirements and have not previously dropped out of training on request," Mannweiler said.

So far, neither of the two women have attempted MARSOC training for a second time, he said.

In order to give Marines the best chances of becoming a Raider, MARSOC has a 10-week training guide posted on its recruiting website.

"Candidates that follow our recruiters’ preparation tips and bring their mental A game stand a significantly better chance of passing Phase I than those that plan to get by on youth and overconfidence," Mannweiler said. "One of our fundamental SOF [special operations forces] truths is that quality is better than quantity.

"Candidates coming to A&S are in stiff competition with high performing, high caliber Marines who all want one of the few spots available on the team."

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The post Another Marine Is Gunning To Become The Corps' First Female Special Operator appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Insane Video Shows Russian Military Jet Flying Within 5 Feet Of US Navy Aircraft

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 12:01 PM PST

U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa have released footage of a Russian Su-27 intercepting a US Navy EP-3 Aries signals reconnaissance aircraft over the Black Sea on Jan 29.

“A U.S. EP-3 Aries aircraft flying in international airspace over the Black Sea was intercepted by a Russian Su-27,” the Navy statement read.

“This interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the Su-27 closing to within five feet and crossing directly through the EP-3’s flight path, causing the EP-3 to fly through the Su-27’s jet wash. The duration of the intercept lasted two hours and 40 minutes.”

Monday’s intercept is the latest in a string of “unsafe” intercepts that the Russian military has conducted.

In November, a Russian Su-30 fighter flew as close as 50 feet before turning on its afterburners while intercepting a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine warfare aircraft over the same area, and in December, two Air Force F-22s were intercepted by Russian Su-25 and Su-35 jets.

The U.S. aircraft had to fire flares as warnings to the Russian jets, one of which “had to aggressively maneuver to avoid a midair collision.” Russia has denied the incident in Syria took place.

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The post Insane Video Shows Russian Military Jet Flying Within 5 Feet Of US Navy Aircraft appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Lessons From the Tet Offensive, 50 Years Later

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 11:17 AM PST

Fifty years ago on Tuesday, communist forces launched the assaults across South Vietnam known as the Tet Offensive.  The offensive marked an inflection point in the Vietnam War.  President Lyndon Johnson denied a request the following month from his military commander in Vietnam, William Westmoreland, for 206,000 more U.S. troops on top of the more than half a million that already were there after years of escalation.  Johnson turned to diplomacy in a search for a peace settlement and announced he would not run for re-election.  The following year he turned over power to his successor, Richard Nixon, who presided over four more years of war and a gradual de-escalation until a peace agreement was signed in January 1973.

Multiple American generations have come of age since the Tet Offensive.  Those generations can get only a partial, history-book sense of the extraordinary public and political mood within the United States back then, in which the Vietnam War played a huge part.  Some things that shaped that mood do not have counterparts today.  One of the biggest was conscription, which brought the costs of war more directly and painfully into far more American households than does any warfare today and made the times especially intense on college campuses, with their populations of draft-age males.  Another was the Cold War, which provided the framework for seeing the expedition in Vietnam as a necessary counter to an advance of world communism.  There also was an interplay between the war and comparably contentious domestic issues of the day, and between a counterculture and an establishment, that made 1968 an especially turbulent year in several respects.

Some observations about the Tet Offensive, however, have applicability to issues of today, especially those involving overseas military expeditions.

By most strictly military measures, the offensive was a defeat for the communists and a victory for the United States and its allies.  Communist forces were unable to hold the cities that they had brazenly attacked, and those forces sustained huge casualties.  But the military outcome was not what mattered most, either in the immediate aftermath of the offensive or ultimately.  The political, perceptual, and emotional outcomes were what mattered, and they led the history books to view Tet not as a U.S. victory but as a big setback.

The enormous and very costly effort that the Vietnamese communists mounted demonstrated that they had the decisive advantage in motivation.  They were fighting on, and for, their home turf.  They had the strong wind of nationalism at their backs.  The Americans were the interlopers and had none of these advantages.  The motivation displayed by the makers of the Tet Offensive was more than what they would have shown if they had been mere pawns of Moscow or Beijing in some wider ideological contest.

American attitudes toward the war, before and after Tet, showed how long a dominant frame of mind driving policy can persist in the face of contrary circumstances, and how it takes a big shock to jolt those attitudes into a different framework.  The Tet offensive supplied such a shock.  It splashed the war onto American television screens in a way that was harder to ignore than anything that had come before.  It was the stimulus for Walter Cronkite to editorialize about how the war was a stalemate rather than a winning U.S. effort, and for Johnson to lament that if he had lost Cronkite then he had lost the American people.

Today, U.S. forces are deployed in many countries in efforts in which success and failure tend to get measured in the military terms of the number of militants killed or the amount of territory captured.  Again, in most of these places the outcomes that matter will depend less on such metrics and more on politics, perception, and emotion.  Again, Americans have the disadvantage of being the outsiders and the hazard of becoming targets of those with nationalist sensibilities or anger wrought by collateral damage.  And again, attitudinal frameworks that may be obsolete or inappropriate can show remarkable persistence, whether such a framework involves drawing a line in a southeast Asian jungle against the advance of communism or prosecuting a "war on terror".

Big shocks still have the potential to jolt Americans onto a different track.  Some shocks have been big enough for course corrections.  A decade after the U.S. left Vietnam, the bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut helped move the Reagan administration to end its military intervention in Lebanon.  But with no single current military intervention having the size of the 1968-era force in Vietnam, and without a draft, a shock comparable to Tet is hard to imagine.  Any shock big enough and bad enough to have comparable effects would probably be something we shouldn't hope for.

This article originally appeared on The National Interest

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The post Lessons From the Tet Offensive, 50 Years Later appeared first on Task & Purpose.

The Pentagon’s Next Supersonic Bullet Is Almost Ready To See Action

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 10:13 AM PST

The Department of Defense is preparing to test-fire a next-generation hypervelocity projectile (HVP) — a supersonic shell that can hit targets up to 100 nautical miles away at speeds approaching Mach 6 — in the next year, defense officials announced on Jan. 25, a development that could significantly augment that Pentagon's existing missile defense systems.

The Navy's Office of Naval Research started developing the HVP more than a decade ago as ammunition for its vaunted electromagnetic railgun system, and the Pentagon's secretive Strategic Capabilities Office announced in 2016 that it had also engaged Army and Air Force to quickly develop a new Hypervelocity Gun Weapon System for the lethal new projectile. The platform's applications are mainly defensive, protecting critical bases, ports, and warships from incoming missiles.

 
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, HVP program manager Vincent Sabio declined to provide details on the new and improved projectile, beyond saying that the shell is engineered to defeat several different threats — with capabilities beyond the existing shells produced by defense contractors BAE.

"There may be different modes that it operates in," Sabio said of the projectile. "We may tell it shortly after it comes out of the gun which type of a threat it is going after, and it will configure itself for that type of threat in terms of the dynamics — how does it maneuver, how does it close on the threat."

Sabio argued that the new HVP could soon offer a lost-cost alternative to the standard Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptors that fill mobile THAAD batteries around the world. At an estimated $3 million a shot, the DoD can only field so many Patriots at a time, Sabio said, resulting in sparse U.S. missile defense arsenals — and, in turn, allowing U.S. adversaries to literally "count interceptors" due to the easily identifiable profile of THAAD batteries.

Related: The Navy's Much-Hyped Electromagnetic Railgun May End Up Dead In The Water »

"They know where our sites are, and they can simply play what we call the 'plus-one game,'" Sabio said at CSIS. "They know if you have x number of interceptors, the absolute most they need to throw at you is x threats. And once you have fired your x interceptors, they pretty much own you."

Patriot missiles also cost more, Sabio said; by contrast, the Navy's PEO Integrated Warfare Systems office put the cost of an HVP around $85,000. That's more than previous 2016 estimates of between $35,000 and $50,000 but significant savings over the cost of a single PAC-3.

With Patriots, "Our finger pauses over the fire button just because we know every time we push it we're pushing a fair amount of money out of that launcher," Sabio said. But with HVPs, "You can shoot a lot of those things and not feel badly about it."

Slide 5 from Navy briefing entitled "Electromagnetic Railgun" presented at the NDIA Joint Armaments Forum, Exhibition & Technology Demonstration, May 14, 2014.

Beyond cost, the new HVP will offer a major tactical boost for forces downrange. While the DoD's existing land- and sea-based interceptor vehicles perform fine against ballistic missiles, Sabio said, they don't offer an optimal chance of success against incoming cruise missiles or hypersonic weapons — the latter of which have become a major focus for the China and Russian militaries and, in turn, necessitated a similar technological response from the Pentagon.

"We need to be able to address (all) types of threats: subsonic, supersonic; sea-skimming, land-hugging; coming in from above and dropping down on top of us," said Sabio. "There are many different trajectories that we need to be able to deal with that we… cannot deal with effectively today."

And rather than rely on the massively-complicated electromagnetic railgun to accelerate projectiles up to Mach 6, the next-generation HVP projectiles could end up firing from the Army's 155 mm howitzers or the 5-inch deck guns aboard Navy destroyers and cruisers. Theoretically, wherever the Pentagon can send a giant gun, SCO's beloved super-bullet can go, as well.

"Any place that you can take a 155, any place that you can take your Navy DDG, you have got an inexpensive, flexible air and missile defense capability," Sabio said. "We're kind of blending the offense and defense."

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The post The Pentagon's Next Supersonic Bullet Is Almost Ready To See Action appeared first on Task & Purpose.

After A False Start, The VA’s Vet ID System Finally Works

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 09:51 AM PST

Late last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it would officially launch the veteran ID card program Nov. 29. Gone would be the days of stuffing a laminated DD-214 into your back pocket before scoring hardware discounts at Home Depot discounts or free grub from Applebees on Veterans Day. Finally, there'd be proof of one's service in the form of a glossy white ID card.

Department of Veterans Affairs

Thank you for your service, Joe Veteran.

At least, that was the hope. Instead, the Nov. 29 rollout of the program was fraught with problems. Many applicants — including seven vets at Task & Purpose who tested the application system — reported broken links or error messages. Though the Veteran ID card application page has remained online since it launched, vets who were unable to complete the process were asked to leave their email address with the department, which would get back to the applicants at a later time. More than 136,000 Veterans provided their emails and 1,145 submitted help-desk tickets due to errors, Curt Cashour, the press secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs told Task & Purpose.

Related: Trouble Registering For VA's Vet ID Card? There's A Much Better, Hidden Way »

As of Jan. 29, Veterans can once again again submit online applications online, and this time — the applications actually go through. Several T&P staffers successfully ran through the application process, and barring one case where a veteran's photo was inverted, it seemed to work fine.

Task & Purpose

Clearly, the process isn't Marine-proof, yet.

"We are excited finally to begin providing this resource to Veterans, fulfilling a promise that was made to them more than two years ago under the previous Administration, which never followed through on it,"  Cashour told Task & Purpose on Jan. 30. (That last line about following through is an apparent reference to the 2015 Veterans Identification Card Act, a bipartisan effort between Congress and then-President Barack Obama to get vets a hard-copy photo ID.)

All veterans with an honorable or general discharge can request the new ID cards. Keep in mind, they don't replace VA medical cards or defense retiree cards, nor are they official government-issued forms of identification — so you can't use it to board a plane, or by booze. But, they are handy for when you're in a checkout line and spot a "10% off for veterans" discount sign.

But as of Jan. 30, the VA has received and begun processing 16,179 applications, and vets can expect to receive the printed IDs come March, Cashour told Task & Purpose. In the meantime, those with an approved application can download the image of their ID card from the website, and either print it out, or show it on on a mobile phone, to get those sweet patriot prices.

UPDATE: This story was updated to include details on the number of help-desk tickets opened due to errors during the Veterans ID card application rollout. (1/30/2018; 1:55 pm)

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The post After A False Start, The VA's Vet ID System Finally Works appeared first on Task & Purpose.

This Marine Vet Was Deported To Mexico For 15 Years. Now He’s Attending Trump’s State Of The Union Address

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 07:10 AM PST

When President Donald Trump looks out over the chamber of the U.S House of Representatives during the State of the Union address Tuesday evening, one of the faces looking back at him will be a man who, until a few weeks ago, could not have stepped foot in the United States, much less travel to the U.S. Capitol to attend the president's speech.

Marco Chavez defies easy description. He's the son of Mexican immigrants and grew up in the United States. He served honorably in the Marine Corps. Undocumented, he was deported after serving a prison term for animal cruelty. And, in December, 15 years after his deportation, Chavez was able to return home to the United States after California Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned him and an immigration judge ruled to restore his U.S. residency.

Chavez will be a guest on Tuesday evening of his congresswoman, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, D-Calif., a freshman lawmaker who advocates for minorities in her district. Barragán is also a child of Mexican immigrants.

Chavez said his message is not political. He just wants to see others like him get their fair shot.

"Veterans should not be getting deported," Chavez said. "Anybody picking up a firearm to defend this country shouldn't be deported."

But at the culmination of Trump's first year in office, immigration has become a political lightning rod.

The president insulted Mexicans during his election campaign, calling them rapists and criminals and promising to build a wall between the countries. And he has insisted that immigrants from developing countries have little to offer the United States. He has made immigration reform a pillar of his agenda, promising to change the decision of who gets a visa from the neediest to a merit-based determination.

Barragán believes immigration will be a key theme in Trump's State of the Union. She said Chavez' presence should serve as a dual-pronged message to a president who has also pressed for expanding and strengthening the U.S. military.

"I think that certainly the message to this president is that we are a nation of immigrants and immigrants give to this country like so many others," she said. "And, a lot of them – even Dreamers (children born in the United States to undocumented mothers) — serve in the military."

"There's a whole section of those who are serving that he is dishonoring and the message should be clear," she added. "People like Marco and our Dreamers who are in the military deserve something better."

Related: Deported To Mexico, US Veterans Are Pressed Into Service By Drug Cartels »

Chavez is believed to be one of hundreds of U.S. veterans who have served in the armed forces but were later deported after getting into trouble. He was one of three that Brown pardoned in December. Among the others was Hector Barajas-Varela, a former soldier with the 82nd Airborne who founded the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, working to raise awareness for deported veterans. Barajas-Varela is awaiting a judge's ruling on the status of his case after U.S. Customs and Immigration missed a deadline to answer his petition to return to the United States.

For Chavez, the journey has been grueling. He served four years in the Marine Corps before being honorably discharged. He believed that because of his service, he was automatically a U.S. citizen. When he got into trouble in the late 1990s, he served his time in prison and went about his life again. He thought that period was behind him and he started working and taking care of his family.

But in 2004, after he got into an argument, police were called. The issue was resolved but officer did a check of his background. It turned out that he was not a U.S. citizen and he was deported. By then, he and his wife had three children.

At first, his wife went with him, but the Mexican border town of Tijuana is rough and crime and is high and she returned to the United States with their kids.

Coming home in December, though joyous, has also served as a stark confrontation with the tatters of the life that Chavez didn't build. At 45, he's come back to no job or career, no money and no home. He's staying with his parents until he can get himself sorted.

His children, who are now 17, 20, and 21, have been reluctant to warm to him, he said.

"I am not sure if they blame me, I just know there is a lot of resentment for me not being here," Chavez said.

Related: T&P’s Full Coverage Of Deported Veterans »

So he's working to construct a new life and build a relationship with his family before he moves to Iowa, where his now ex-wife and two of his children are located.

"It's like coming out of high school with nothing," he said. "I've got to start over. That's kind of what it's like. I am getting another start, but a late one."

Barragán plans not only to bring Chavez to the president's address, but also to introduce him to as many congressional colleagues as she can. She wants to highlight what she called the injustice of deporting men and women who serve in uniform.

"My colleagues on the other side of the aisle don't realize this is happening," Barragán said. "They are shocked. The problem is, there is not any action after they learn about it. So the more we can highlight, the better.

"To be able to shine a light on people who served this country and yet the country they are serving is turning their back on their on them, I think it's important to do," she said.

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©2018 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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A US Veteran Says, ‘That’s It, I’m Giving Up On The United States’

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 07:00 AM PST

I've made a painful decision. I have decided to renounce my citizenship.

I am doing this because realized that I cannot, without moral nor ethical conflict, call myself an American. In other words, I can no longer proudly call myself an American nor truly do what is necessary to make it a better nation. So, with respect, I am opting out of America.

It isn't a snap decision. Yes, Donald Trump bothers me, but I believe he is only one symptom of a larger national problem. This is the result of many years of internal debate that has now ended for me.

One reason for my decision is that my participation in the invasion of Iraq has weighed on my heart. As a naïve 19-year-old, I had believed that the war was justified. As the years passed, the more difficult it became to justify.

But what bothers me most is our continued denial of our wrong-doing in the public discourse and our collective regression into hostile xenophobia. Nowhere is this more evident and painful than in the veteran community. We can too easily dismiss the veteran community as a vocal minority. One could even dismiss the veteran social media trolls as a vocal minority within a minority.

But my personal relationships tell me otherwise.

Since I left military service, the American "culture wars" have hurt many of my  friendships with past colleagues. Gun control, Black Lives Matter, and the Obama presidency (to name a few) had all become issues that eroded the notion of brotherhood. Countless friends from my Army and Marine Corps service severed their ties mostly following a heavily publicized media frenzy. Some even posted rants on my timeline before doing so. What makes this painful were the years we spent together in often miserable conditions and mutual pronouncements of brotherhood. It is one thing when random Trump supporters or veterans like Kurt Schlichter say outright racist things. It is quite another thing when someone you know well calls you a traitor or believes that your wife should be barred from entry into the country based solely on her religion. The hateful reactions of my remaining veteran friends on Facebook during the first hours of Trump's Muslim Ban were quite shocking.  

Were my fellow Marines and soldiers hiding their prejudices the whole time? I’ll never know and it’ll likely to painful for me to hear. I don't think I want to.

I think the United States needs a renewed era of civil disobedience to defend and advance the civil rights of Americans. Personally, doing so means putting my family in Canada at risk because if I am arrested while protesting in the United States, I might be barred from entering Canada, where I live, with my family. Thus I cannot ask others to do what I am unwilling to do myself. Nor can I calmly sit back and criticize the actions (or inaction) of my government from abroad without having any real skin in the game.

Therefore, the only way I can carry on my life in accordance to my values and principles is to renounce my citizenship. 

Carlo Valle is a veteran of the Marine Corps and U.S. Army. A graduate of international relations at the Catholic University of Paris, he works as a freelance business consultant and researcher in Montreal.

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The Army’s Brand New Handgun Already Has Some Major Problems

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 06:09 AM PST

Just over a year after the Army selected Sig Sauer's P320 9mm pistol for its new XM17/18 Modular Handgun System program to replace the Beretta M9, the branch's new sidearm is showing some serious problems, according to a new Department of Defense report released this month.

The Pentagon's overview on its gear and tech programs in 2017, conducted by the Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation and released earlier in January 2018, indicated that both the XM17 and XM18 pistols demonstrated a series of persistent problems, including accidental discharge, ejecting live ammunition, and relatively frequent stoppages when firing ammunition encased in a full metal jacket. Even worse, the report recommends the Army engineer some fixes "upon identification of the root cause" of the ejection issue — a statement that indicates the branch hasn't yet identified the source of the issue.

 
This could be a big problem for the Army, which started fielding the new pistol on Nov. 28 with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. As part of its 10-month rollout, the Modular Handgun System will head downrange with soldiers assigned to the critical 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade when the experimental new battalion deploys to Afghanistan in the spring. And though the report notes that the ammo stoppages "had minimal operational impact on the operators' ability to fire and continue the mission," the presence of errors may make some soldiers deploying with the new sidearm nervous.

It's likely, however, that one of Sig Sauer's competitors will end up more steamed than the Army itself. Shortly after the branch awarded its $580 million Modular Handgun System contract, program contender Glock filed a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office claiming that U.S. Army Materiel Command "improperly failed to complete reliability testing" on Sig Sauer's compact XM17 entry. The complaint was thrown out, but the GAO's judgment in June 2017 suggests that the branch ended up selecting Sig Sauer's entry due to its relatively lower price point for a two-gun proposal that offered  "overall the best value to the government."

It now appears that the Army is getting what it paid for. Safety defects like those reported by the Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation have cropped up in the months between the GAO's decision in June and the pistol's initial fielding in November. Several videos posted online show the commercial Sig Sauer P320 firing when dropped, a defect that first became evident in January 2017 when an experienced officer with the Connecticut Police Department's Special Response Team was shot in the left leg after his pistol discharged upon hitting the ground.

How the government report will affect the fielding of XM17 and XM18 to soldiers remains to be seen, but the impact of the report won't stop with the Army: In May, Pentagon officials stated that the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps were interested in adopting more than 220,000 M17 pistols between the three of them. Hopefully, the Pentagon will figure out what's wrong with its vaunted new handgun before fielding the sidearm to military personnel beyond the Army.

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Army Issues Warning Over Dangerous Vape Oils After 60 North Carolina Troops Sickened

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 05:26 AM PST

The U.S. Army Public Health Center has issued a warning to users of e-cigarettes and other vaping products after approximately 60 troops in North Carolina experienced serious medical issues.

A public health alert was issued by the center on Monday. According to officials, soldiers from Fort Bragg and Marines from Camp Lejeune have reported adverse health effects believed to be caused by vaping products that are marketed as containing cannabidiol, or CBD, oil.

Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg and the Naval Medical Center at Camp Lejeune have treated dozens of troops, according to the alert. Officials did not specify specific numbers for each hospital, nor did they release the time span during which the troops were treated.

The service members reported headaches, nausea, vomiting, palpitations, dilated pupils, dizziness, disorientation, agitation and seizures, officials said. Those are all symptoms associated with synthetic cannabinoids.

"Complications from the seizures may have resulted in significant neurologic damage in one soldier and falls/accidents resulting from seizures are blamed for the deaths of two Marines," officials said.

The Army Public Health Center, which is based at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, said four additional public cases have been reported in North Carolina and 33 cases have been reported in Utah.

They attribute the adverse health effects to man-made chemicals that are meant to replicate those found in marijuana. Army regulations prohibit soldiers from using such products.

"Although pure CBD oil has not yet been associated with adverse health effects, CBD vape oils most likely contain synthetic cannabinoids, concentrated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and/or other hazardous compounds in addition to, or in place of, CBD oil," officials said.

The alert cautioned troops to make sure that vaping products they purchase do not contain CBD oil, THC or synthetic cannabinoids.

"This problem has the potential to spread quickly across the Army," officials said. "Although some vape oils claim to contain CBD oil, CBD, THC, and/or synthetic cannabinoids, many vape oils do not disclose that they may contain illegal and/or potentially hazardous substances to include synthetic cannabinoids. Even consumers who may not be seeking products containing CBD oil, CBD, THC or other synthetic cannabinoids may unintentionally purchase and use them."

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©2018 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Officials: ‘Clown Penis’ Is Not A Realistic Callsign For Pilots

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 04:55 AM PST

Despite what you may have seen on television, it is extremely unlikely that a fighter pilot would have the callsign "Clown Penis."

A recent Saturday Night Live Skit with actor Will Ferrell featured an F-16 pilot with the above-mentioned callsign. The pilot explained that he picked it because, "When an enemy sees me on his tail, I want him to feel the same way that you'd feel if a clown showed you his penis: Confused, unsettled, and most of all very, very scared."

To those not familiar with aviation, this may seem to be a plausible scenario, especially since two Navy aviators got into trouble last year for drawing a penis in the sky. But experts will tell you that pilots typically don't pick their own callsigns.

In fact, Air Force squadrons vote on a pilot's callsign and the most popular ones get assigned to the pilots, said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Daren Sorenson, a former F-15 pilot. Callsigns are meant to represent something significant that a pilot did during their initial time in the squadron.

"The goal is to come up with a name that fits the individual pilot's character as well as capturing some possibly embarrassing that happened when he was new," Sorenson told Task & Purpose.  "It's not meant to be taken too seriously, and most have a great deal of fun telling others what their callsign means and the story behind it."

Air Force pilots typically receive their callsigns at squadron naming ceremonies, said Col. Tad Sholtis, a spokesman for Air Combat Command. While each ceremony is unique, some conventions are fairly universal.

Callsigns are typically puns on pilots' last names or they commemorate a pilot's major accomplishment or failure, Sholtis told Task & Purpose on Monday. Pilots can keep their callsign from a previous squadron if they flew combat missions with that name.

"The name cannot be too cool for the pilot in question, which is why you don’t see a lot of 'Top Gun'-style callsigns across the force," he said. "Finally, the name usually isn’t one you ask for yourself or one that is too difficult to explain to anyone who asks — which would seem to exclude the callsign used in the skit."

In the Navy, pilots and flight officers generally receive their callsign from their first operational squadron or during flight training as a member of the fleet replacement squadron, said Cmdr. Ron Flanders, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces.

As in the Air Force, callsigns can be riffs on the aviator's name, said Flanders, who does not fly but still earned the callsign "Ned" from aviators.

Often, naval aviators receive callsigns that commemorate their major screw-ups, he said.

"We had a pilot charged with briefing his squadron prior to a major exercise," Flanders explained. "He was so nervous, he fainted, earning the callsign 'Flopper,' a Navy term, which usually describes an un-briefed personal casualty drill conducted during training — usually a sailor will feign unconsciousness, etc.

"Another example is a pilot who was known as 'Boom Boom;' it was given to him because during carrier qualifications training, he forgot to release the parking brake prior to a catapult shot off the ship. As a result, both of his main mounts blew during the catapult shot, with a loud 'BOOM BOOM' noise."

So for anyone thinking about becoming a pilot so he can have the callsign "Clown Penis," there's always the North Korean air force.

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Meet The 3 Service Members The White House Invited To The State Of The Union

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 04:36 AM PST

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

Marine blinded by an improvised explosive device, an Army sergeant who rescued a sailor wounded by an IED, and a Coast Guard technician who did rescue work in the hurricanes will be among the special guests at the State of the Union address Tuesday.

In announcing the list of First Lady Melania Trump’s 11 special guests, the White House said among them would be retired Corp. Matthew Bradford, who was blinded and lost both legs when he stepped on an IED in Iraq in 2007.

After multiple surgeries and therapies, Bradford became the first Marine with such severe injuries ever to re-enlist, the White House said. Bradford re-enlisted in 2010 and has since retired.

Bradford, now 30, originally from Winchester, Kentucky, was assigned to work with other wounded Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, when he re-enlisted.

Joining Bradford in the First Lady’s section in the House balcony for President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress will be Staff Sgt. Justin Peck, who has served eight years in the Army.

Last November, Peck was part of a team with Navy Chief Petty Officer Kenton Stacy that was clearing IEDs in Raqqa in eastern Syria, the so-called capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that had been retaken by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Stacy was severely wounded by an IED while clearing the second floor of a hospital building. Ignoring the threat from other IEDs, Peck rushed into the building, applied a tourniquet, put in an endotracheal tube and was “directly responsible for saving Chief Petty Officer Stacy’s life,” the White House said.

Another special guest will be Coast Guard Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Ashlee Leppert. While working out of the Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans last year, Leppert helped to rescue “dozens of Americans imperiled during the devastating hurricane season,” the White House said.

In announcing the list, White House Press Secretary said the three service members and the other eight special guests “represent the unbreakable American spirit” that Trump will cite as being a major factor in U.S. successes at home and abroad.

This story originally appeared on Military.com

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Don’t Mess With The Tough Book Reviewers At ‘The Journal Of Military History’

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 04:00 AM PST

At a time when many reviewers pull their punches, especially in academic journals, it is heartening to see lines like these in The Journal of Military History: "The arguments are simply not convincing, at times highly questionable . . . . It is difficult to see what contribution this book makes to the historical literature."

Another review makes me think that the University of North Carolina Press needs to pull up its socks. "Foster, the Union commander at Lone Jack, was not killed in the battle [as the author asserts], but died in Oakland, California in 1902. . . . Simply stated, Schofield never arrested Blunt. . . . Unfortunately the inaccuracies do not end there. . . . . Cutrer also has the Battle of Gettysburg taking place in 1862."

I even enjoy the quibbles. From a third review: "Black mistakenly identifies the new Indian aircraft carrier Vikramaditya as having been converted from a Soviet Moskva-class helicopter carrier rather than a Kiev-class carrier."

Tough crowd. But it is does my heart good to see precision so valued.

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Air Force Sergeant Under Investigation For Racially Charged Facebook Rant

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 03:56 AM PST

An Air Force sergeant is under investigation for blasting lower-ranking "black females" at Nellis Air Force Base in a profanity-laced Facebook rant, officials said Monday.

Officials at the Las Vegas base said Tech. Sgt. Geraldine Lovely was "removed from her supervisory role" after viral footage of a racially insensitive tirade surfaced over the weekend.

"It pisses me the f–k off that they have no respect and constantly have an attitude," Lovely can be heard saying in the since-deleted video. "What the f–k is up with that?"

A second version of the footage uploaded Monday garnered more than 900,000 views, according to the Las Vegas Sun. She was wearing her Air Force uniform in the video.

"They're talking down to me. I'm trying to tread lightly as a higher-ranking (non-commissioned officer) to not blow the f–k up and start a fight club," she raved in the footage.

"Every time I f–king talk to them, it's like I'm just some stupid a— girl that doesn't even deserve to be talked to as a person," said Lovely, a member of the 99th Force Support Squadron.

The base pledged an investigation to determine if Lovely's remarks were the tip of a broader issue at the military facility.

“While the actions of this individual are inappropriate and unacceptable, we are using this unfortunate situation to continue a dialogue with our Airmen about the topic of good order and discipline,” base officials said in a statement.

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©2018 New York Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Russian Jet Comes Within 5 Feet Of US Navy Plane Over Black Sea

Posted: 30 Jan 2018 03:31 AM PST

A Russian fighter jet on Monday flew within 5 feet of a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane over the Black Sea, marking another close encounter that American military officials contend increases the risk of midair collisions.

A Russian SU-27 crossed directly into the flight path of a Navy EP-3 and forced the U.S. aircraft to fly through a wake of turbulence behind the Russian fighter, according to U.S. Naval Forces Europe.

"The duration of the intercept lasted two hours and 40 minutes," said Capt. Pamela Kunze, NAVEUR spokeswoman. "Unsafe actions increase the risk of miscalculation and midair collisions."

Such encounters have been an ongoing concern for the U.S. military, which has faced a series of provocative intercepts by Russian aircraft during the past few years.

In November, a Russian fighter crossed within 50 feet of a U.S. surveillance aircraft flying over the Black Sea, blasting its afterburners and forcing the American aircraft into a stream of turbulence that caused the plane to tilt into a 15-degree roll.

Navy surveillance aircraft routinely fly out of an air station in Sigonella, Italy. Many of the aircraft are specialized in anti-submarine warfare and electronic support measures.

Russian submarine activity in the Black and Mediterranean seas has intensified in recent years, according to the U.S. military.

Still, Russian and NATO military aircraft routinely interact during routine intercepts around the Baltic states and the Black Sea. In most cases, they happen without incident as aircraft follow a set of air safety protocols.

"The Russian military is within its right to operate within international airspace, but they must behave within international standards set to ensure safety and prevent incidents," Kunze said.

U.S. and NATO officials have complained the Russians engage in unpredictable maneuvers that include flying without transponders turned on.

In June, a Russian fighter flew toward a U.S. Air Force surveillance plane over the Baltic Sea with a "high rate of closure speed and poor control of the aircraft," U.S. European Command said at the time. Last year, a Russian fighter barrel-rolled over the top of an Air Force RC-135 flying in international airspace, in a maneuver that the military said put the U.S. crew at risk.

The Navy said its aircraft was operating in international airspace and in accordance with international law when Monday's intercept occurred.

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©2018 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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