Military news not often well publicized

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NBC News has reported intelligence officials have told it "The U.S. is prepared to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea should officials become convinced that North Korea is about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test." These officials have told NBC that two tomahawk cruise missile destroyers have been positioned within striking distance of a North Korean nuclear site and the USS Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is on its way to the area. I find a US preemptive strike hard to believe:

  • Intelligence officials normally do not reveal operational plans. If they have, they have eliminated the element of surprise and most surely violated their oaths to protect classified information.
  • Such an attack would most surely force North Korea to unleash a long range artillery attack against Seoul, which is only about 30-40 miles south of the DMZ. North Korea has the capacity to destroy Seoul with these weapons.
  • "The US is prepared" differs from "US will." Of course the US is prepared to do this. I doubt it will, however.

I believe this is a deception, a poor one in my mind. But I will agree we have to stay tuned. I have seen a report that says Beijing has suspended all flights from Beijing to North Korea. There is followup required on these reports. (041417)

US military to get more aggressive in Somalia war


Stars & Stripes reported the US military can be more aggressive going after terrorist targets in Somalia. The US also can provide more assistance to the Somali National Army and other allies fighting al-Shabab. The news outlet said, "Portions of southern Somalia, excluding the capital Mogadishu, will be considered a war zone. That gives U.S. special operations forces the authority to accompany partner troops closer to the fight and call in offensive airstrikes quicker." Media outlets claim the US is fighting a "clandestine war" in Somalia. The New York Times called it a "shadow war ... using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies." The US seems to consider this region as "ground zero" for Islamic terrorists. The Times has said many of the terrorists have fled Yemen and come to Somalia instead. US forces have been and continue to be in combat, and have received hostile fire. The US is supporting an African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, whose military members include Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia, deployed in six sectors covering south and central Somalia. In the meantime, Somalia faces a crisis that could well beyond a "mere famine." (033017)

Marine heavy artillery in place to support Raqqa attack


AlJazeera has reported that US defense officials have confirmed US Marine heavy artillery has been moved into Syria to support the attack against ISIS in Raqqa, Syria. This is a M777 howitzer, able to fire up to about 15 miles. The deployment is said to be temporary. (032817)

US to ramp up support in Yemen civil war?


Voice of America reported on March 27, 2017, "The United States is considering deepening its role in Yemen's conflict by more directly aiding its Gulf allies battling Iran-aligned Houthi rebels … The review of potential new U.S. assistance, which includes intelligence support, would come amid increasing evidence that Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to the Houthi movement, a Shi'ite ally." This is a civil war. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), said, "The U.S. should not escalate our military involvement in a civil war in Yemen halfway around the world without any explanation by the president of what we are doing there and what is our strategy." I agree. The Saudis are leading a multination coalition of African and Mideast countries that has intervened in the civil war. The US, UK and France have been supporting it. BBC reported on March 28, 2017, "Jihadist militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and rival affiliates of so-called Islamic State (IS) have meanwhile taken advantage of the chaos by seizing territory in the south and stepping up their attacks, notably in government-controlled Aden.

More US forces to Iraq


The Military Times reported "1,700 soldiers from the same unit are overseas now, spread between Iraq and Kuwait. It's unclear whether the full remainder — approximately 2,500 paratroopers — will receive deployment orders. Earlier this month, a top Army general told Congress there were plans to do precisely that, and distribute those personnel within Iraq and Syria."

On March 11, 2017 I reported the
Army Times reported on March 9, 2017 that 2,500 troops from the 82nd Airborne are going to go to Kuwait and await further orders. Elements of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) will be among those deployed. The Army Times said the 82nd already had 1,700, spread between Kuwait and Iraq.

I'm not sure I understand these numbers. The
Stars and Stripes said the newly added troops deployed from the US, meaning they would not have been taken from Kuwait. The Military Times said this additional group was a temporary measure, and not part of the rotation. The MIlitary Times and Army Times said 1,700 from the 82nd were spread between Kuwait and Iraq, while Stars & Stripes said 1,700 from the 82nd were already "there." As it was talking about Mosul, I have assumed "there" to mean Mosul, but I am not sure.

It is hard to figure out the math. I think the government wants it that way in order that Americans will not worry the US military footprint in Iraq is growing too much. I will keep watching. (032717)

Army deploying MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones to ROK


The Army is deploying the new MQ-1C Gray Eagle surveillance and attack drone to the Republic of Korea (ROK). They'll be permanently based at Kunsan AB, south of Seoul. She is an updated version of the Predator. She will be assigned to the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), 2nd Infantry Division. I understand a company will deploy. I am not certain but I have seen reports the company will have three MQ-1Cs to start. An unnamed official told Yonhap News, “In case of a war on the Korean Peninsula, the unmanned aircraft could infiltrate into the skies of North Korea and make a precision strike on the war command and other major military facilities.” She can conduct surveillance and carry the Hellfire air-to-ground missile, and remain airborne for 24 hoursShe can also stream surveillance data to an Apache attack helicopter. (031317)

82nd Airborne alerted to go to Syria-Iraq


Voice of America (VOA), Carl Babb, reported on March 10, 2017 that a plan now before the White House to send 1,000 soldiers to Kuwait is awaiting approval. Babb said soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division have been alerted. The Army Times reported on March 9, 2017 that 2,500 troops form the 82nd Airborne are going to go to Kuwait and await further orders. Elements of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) will be among those deployed. The 82nd already has 1,700, spread between Kuwait and Iraq. I believe the 2,500 number is an additive. It appears the 82nd forces could be used in the assaults on Mosul and Raqqa.

The photo shows 2 BCT troops boarding an USAF C-17 on their way to Iraq in January 2015. There are also reports National Guardsmen may be sent in the future.

The Marine deployment to Syria that has already occurred involved 300 Marines according to Babb, and 100 soldiers from the 75th Rangers. The Rangers have been deployed in and around Manbij, Syria and are there to prevent further fighting. Captain Jeff Davis, USN, a Pentagon spokesman, said "Manbij is liberated, and there's no need for further fighting there." The concern has to do with Turkey wanting to take Manbij, which is a border town.

More US forces needed Afghanistan and Syria

General Joseph Votel, USA, commander CENTCOM, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 9, 2017, that more US forces are needed in Afghanistan and Syria. Votel agreed with the assessment that Afghanistan was at a military deadlock ad more US troops are needed. General John Nicholson, USA, top US commander in Afghanistan, told the House Armed Service Committee on February 9, 2017 he needs more troops, but did not say how many more. Votel and Nicholson are working together to come up with their best advice for the SecDef. Votel also said he needs more conventional forces for Syria and they will have to stay longer. His argument centers on the expected defeat of ISIS and the question of what to do about Syria afterwards. He believes the troops cannot just leave, saying the Syrians will need help to keep a defeated ISIS at bay. This all begs the question about what our strategy is in the region, what are our goals?

My first reaction was, "Are we going down the path of establishing democracy again? I for one say we need to get out of both places, pronto. Our military does not spread democracy. Let the State Department spread democracy and get our troops outta there! But instead, the brass wants to stay and build up forces"

However, I have read more comments coming out from General Votel, and he says he believes Iran is the number one threat in the region, asserting, "We are also dealing with a range of malign activities perpetrated by Iran and its proxies operating in the region ... It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability for this part of the world .. "malign influence across Iraq and Syria," including efforts to prop up the Syrian regime and exploit Shia population centers

His point is clear and well taken. I think what we the people then need is a clear statement of mission for our growing forces in Syria. I understand ISIS first. But then the generals and suits must deal with post-ISIS and I guess Votel is saying that's Iran. Okay, so it's Iran. Is Iran the mission? What missions are we looking at against Iran. That's what we need to know before committing more sons and daughters to more war in that region. (031017)

Marines and Army Rangers deploy to Syria


Marines from the 11th US Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) have deployed to and arrived in Syria. The Washington Post has reported they will establish an outpost near Raqqa and employ artillery to support friendly Syrian forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition (I suspect Kurds are in the mix as well) as they attack Raqqa. The Marines brought M777 Howitzers capable of firing 155mm shells. They departed San Diego by ship in October 2016. Colonel John Dorrian, USA, speaking for Operation Inherent Resolve, said artillery and US Army Rangers have arrived as well. Early reports indicate the 3/75th Rangers were the ones to deploy. The Pentagon said the force would be a Marine artillery unit and Army Ranger, making it sound like the Rangers might provide security for the Marine Artillery unit. However, I have early reports indicating the 3/75th Rangers are going to Manbij. If the Manbij deployment is true, the Ranger move is significant. There has been talk about the US and Russia joining up to block a Turkish force from seizing the border town of Manbij. The photo shows an armored convoy near Manbij, Syria which I believe will be tasked to keep the Turks away. This is an escalation. These are conventional forces. I do not yet know how many, but I have seen the numbers reported in terms of hundreds; Col. Dorrian said about 400 total. General Jack Keene, USA (Ret.) said on Fox News this morning that the SecDef Mattis' plan to defeat ISIS asks for as little as a few thousand more US troops all the way up to 12,000 more. He also said the US would likely bring heavy artillery and Apache attack helicopters. There is also talk about the US and Russia going forces to block a Turkish force from seizing the border town of Manbij. The photo shows an armored convoy near Manbij, Syria which I believe will be tasked to keep the Turks away. All together this is going to get the US more deeply involved and into an increasingly complicated factional war, arguably a regional war. I recommend you read "Middle East Perspectives" by Rick Francona, an expert in military issues affecting Syria and the Middle East region. (030917)

Talk of more US troops in Syria builds


Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly reported for The Washington Post on March 4, 2017 "A Pentagon plan for the coming assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State capital in Syria, calls for significant U.S. military participation, including increased Special Operations forces, attack helicopters and artillery, and arms supplies … Officials involved in the planning have proposed lifting a cap on the size of the U.S. military contingent in Syria, currently numbering about 500 Special Operations trainers and advisers to the combined Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. While the Americans would not be directly involved in ground combat, the proposal would allow them to work closer to the front line and would delegate more decision-making authority down the military line from Washington." Recall on February 23, 2017 I reported General Joseph Votel, USA, commander US Central Command (CENTCOM) told reporters that more US troops may have to be sent to Syria to fight ISIS. He said, "I am very concerned about maintaining momentum … It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves. That’s an option … We want to bring the right capabilities forward. Not all of those are necessarily resident in the Special Operations community. If we need additional artillery or things like that, I want to be able to bring those forward to augment our operations.” My experience having done a lot of research on military planning is that the troops and equipment slated to go have already been alerted and are prepared to head on over at the crack of the bat. (030517)

International Waters are International, South China Sea included


Rear Admiral James Kilby, commander Carrier Strike Group 1, told journalists aboard the USS Carl Vinson on March 3, 2017, while sailing through the South China Sea, "We will be here. We're going to continue to demonstrate that international waters are waters where everyone can sail, where everyone can conduct commerce and merchant traffic." The admiral hosted Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II along with three Philippine security officials on the Vinson on March 3. There has as yet been no reaction from China, which claims most of the South China Sea to be in her territorial waters. The Vinson has been conducting F/A-18 flight operations in the region. (030417)

US may expand military capabilities in Somalia

SecDef has reportedly approved a plan to expand the US military's capabilities to fight against al-Shabab in Somalia. Somalia has been a failed state for over two decades. General Thomas Waldhauser, USA, the head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) told AP, "(Somalia is) our most perplexing challenge … (The US is) trying to take a look at Somalia from a fresh perspective in the way ahead." Apparently the US rotates special operations forces, about 50, in and out and conducts air attacks against al-Shabab. This new plan could result in more US forces being applied on the ground. Somali security forces cannot handle the job. (022617)

US setting up trip wire in Europe again — 2nd Cav to eastern Poland


During the Cold War, the US had significant military resources in Europe to defend against a Soviet attack, but had the Soviets come across the Fulda Gap en masse, the US force would not have been able to thwart their invasion. Placing US forces close to the areas near the border was meat to be a trip-wire. That is, if you come across, you will engage US forces right away, and even if they cannot thwart your attack, your crossing will cause the US to come at you with full force including nuclear weapons. The same thinking applied to the Korean DMZ. Well now the US Army is going to move a battalion sized group, about 1,000 soldiers, to eastern Poland about 100 miles from Russia. It will stay for about six months staring in March 2017, and probably be replaced in kind. Lt. General Ben Hodges, commander US Army Europe, said, "When the U.S. is serious about something, we put money on it and people on it. We need to transition from assurance to deterrence. A big part of this is our enhanced forward presence to Poland.” So the force is meant to be a deterrent, to wit a trip-wire. Those are not enough to stop a Russian invasion. But if Russia were to come across, the force would defend Poland to the last drop of blood and the US would have to retaliate with massive force, including nuclear weapons. Romania will contribute some forces, and the entire force will integrate with the Polish 15th Mechanized Brigade. Hodges said, "Ideally this will deter our enemies by adjusting their planning. They will see that NATO would be too costly to attack." (022417)

US military in sad shape — Generals speaking out

House Armed Services Committee chairman Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) has reported on what the chiefs of staff of the military services have testified about the state of health of their service. Thornberry said that the chiefs have been saying they could handle the intense operations tempo, until now. The following is a brief summation of what they are now saying:

Army: Only one third of the brigade combat teams (BCT) and a quarter of aviation brigades are combat ready. Only three of 58 BCTs could go to battle tonight.

Navy: The Navy is the smallest it has been for 99 years. The Navy is now countering threats from North Korea, Iran and ISIS, and attempting to be prepared for Russia and China. Fifty-three percent of Navy aircraft cannot fly. Some air wings may have to shut down. The Navy has 275 ships compared to 319 on 9-11.

Air Force: The USAF is the smallest, oldest and least ready in its history. The average age of aircraft is 27 years, the USAF is short 155 pilots and 3,400 aircraft maintainers. In 1991, for the Persian Gulf War, the USAF had 500,000 active duty people and 135 fighter squadrons. It now has 317,000 people and 55 fighter squadrons. Modernization is being sacrifice.

Marines: The Marines are insufficiently manned, trained and equipped. Modernization is being sacrificed. Marine pilots are inadequately trained, needing 16-18 flight hours per month and getting 12-14. There is a $9 billion backlog in deferred maintenance.

Critics argue the services are now complaining so loudly because they believe they have a more friendly administration willing to spend more. My own view is the services have been complaining for some time, falling on deaf ears. (022317)

More US troops to Syria?

General Joseph Votel, USA, commander US Central Command (CENTCOM) told reporters on February 22, 2017, that more US troops may have to be sent to Syria to fight ISIS. He said, "I am very concerned about maintaining momentum … It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves. That’s an option … We want to bring the right capabilities forward. Not all of those are necessarily resident in the Special Operations community. If we need additional artillery or things like that, I want to be able to bring those forward to augment our operations.” The US now has about 500 special operations forces in Syria. Any added forces would likely come from conventional units. The US would like to equip Kurdish YPG forces, but Turkey has aggressively objected. If President Trump defers to Turkey on this, then Votel seemed to say even more US forces would have to be brought forward. The possibility exists that President Trump may adjust Obama strategy in this region. He might consider terminating support to anti-Assad Syrian fighters and focus mainly on employing the Kurds to fight against ISIS. (022317)

Carrier Strike Group begins operations in South China Sea


Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1, including Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 1's Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108), and aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, began routine operations in the South China Sea, on February 18, 2017. I do not know exactly where they will operate and whether there will be any issues regarding China's wide claim of her territorial waters. CVW-2 includes the "Black Knights" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 4, the "Blue Hawks" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 78, the "Bounty Hunters" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 2, the "Blue Blasters" of VFA-34, the "Kestrels" of VFA-137, the "Golden Dragons" of VFA-192, the "Black Eagles" of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 113, the "Gauntlets" of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 136 and the "Providers" of Fleet Logistic Support Squadron (VRC) 30. (021817)

Navy says F/A-18 barely fit to fly


Vice Admiral Bill Moran, vice chief of Naval Operations, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that two out of three Navy F/a-18 fighters built in St Louis are not flyable on any given day. He said, “The facts are that for our entire Hornet fleet, that’s the Hornets and Super Hornet fleet, we have 62 percent (that are not fit to fly) on a given day." The aircraft have been worked very hard since 9/11 fighting multiple defense challenges. He also said, “On (Sept. 11, 2001) we had 316 ships and over 400,000 sailors. Today, we have 275 ships and nearly 90,000 fewer sailors. And yet the world has become a lot busier place today.” (021817)
Aviation brigade arrives in Europe

The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade with about 2,000 soldiers, 50 Blackhawk helicopters and 10 Chinooks and support equipment arrived in Belgium, I believe on February 9, 2017. These are meant to add to the air power in eastern Europe. (020917)

Trump orders Pentagon to draft war plan against ISIS


President Trump signed an executive order on January 28, 2017 ordering the DoD to draft a plan to destroy ISIS, a war plan. DoD must submit its draft plan within 30 days.

Part of the executive order says this:

“It is the policy of the United States that ISIS be defeated … Within 30 days, a preliminary draft of the Plan to defeat ISIS shall be submitted to the President by the Secretary of Defense.”

It is hard to know at this point what the plan might include. There are many options available. Some I have seen mentioned by the media include the following:

  • Move more arms and heavier arms to the Kurdish militia in Syria
  • Increase the number of US Special forces in Syria. Employ them in combat roles
  • Raise troop ceilings for US forces in Iraq and Syria and send them
  • Revise the rules of engagement, mostly air-related, not only in Syria, but also in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere where ISIS might be operating. Be prepared to accept more civilian casualties.
  • Conduct combined Russian-US air operations against ISIS in Syria. Establish a combined command center for this purpose.
  • Conduct combined Turkey-US ground operations in Syria
  • Establish safe zones in Syria for refugees, and defend them
  • Capture and enable US forces to use Syrian bases and defend those bases
  • Continue efforts to capture or kill ISIS leaders-high value targets
  • Stop Iranian weapons shipments to Yemen
  • Destroy offensive Houthi weapons employed along Yemen coast
  • Assure Strait of Hormuz remains open
  • Reduce the requirements for presidential authority to conduct military operations( 0717)

B-21 "Raider" 5th generation bomber now in development


The USAF awarded a development contract for a 5th generation global precision attack platform designated the B-21 "Raider" to Northrop Grumman in October 2015. USAF hopes to buy 100 as a minimum, hopefully more. Initial Operating Capability (IOC) expected by 2030. Somehow I missed this endeavor, but felt I should take note of it today when I learned of it. The graphic shows an artist's view of the bomber, though it could end up looking different. Very few details are available about what its capabilities will be. (020417)

White House said to be to focusing on North Korea


The White House, probably the National Security Council, probably Lt. General Flynn, its director, has taken note of the growing nuclear threat from North Korea. The Financial Times said: "Two people familiar with the review, which the White House has not disclosed, said it was designed to determine what the Trump administration could do differently to address concerns that North Korea could strike the US with a nuclear-armed missile." North Korea has long had bellicose leaders, and its current leader, Kim Jong-un is no exception. In January he suggested his country was finalizing preparations for a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). There have long been concerns in the US about North Korea developing an ICBM which could reach the US. AS a result, both the US and Japan have deployed and activated anti-ballistic missile systems to thwart such an attack. Kim said, "The political and military position of socialism should be further cemented as an invincible fortress ... We should resolutely smash the enemies' despicable and vicious moves to dampen the pure and ardent desire of the people for the party and estrange the people from it." In typical North Korean fashion, Kim has said he would reduce the US to ashes. While North Korean leaders have persistently threatened war with the US, one must not accept continuing statements like that as routine. That is the problem when dealing with North Korea --- one never is sure what it might do. As a result, the US has to do strategic planing for any eventuality. (020217)

Iranian backed militia attacks Saudi ship --- meant for US?

An Iranian supported militia employed three small boats to attack a Saudi warship, rammed the ship and set off large explosions in a suicide attack. The Saudi frigate was off the coast of Yemen. Two Saudi sailors were killed and three were wounded. American intelligence officials believe the attack was meant for a US warship. This underscores why it is so important to be prepared for any kind of boat-ship approaching American warships. This attack occurred near the Bab al Mandab Strait connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, the same area where U.S. Navy warships came under missile attack in October.An American destroyer shot down those incoming missiles. The USS Nitze, an American destroyer, retaliated soon after, launching Tomahawk missiles on October 13 at multiple Houthi radar sites in Yemen. (013117)Britain's Financial Times reported on February 2, 2017 that the White House is reviewing North Korea policy. The White H

Shakeup of National Security Council---What?

Addendum, January 31, 2017: It now appears the Director CIA will be invited to the PC meetings, setting off a potential conflict between the CIA and DNI.

On January 28, 2017, President Trump signed "Presidential Memorandum Organization of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council." I was surprised to learn that the Director for National Intelligence (DNI) and the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) were not included as regular members of the NSC's Principals Committee.

The memo states:

"The NSC and HSC (Homeland Security Council) shall have as their regular attendees (both statutory and non-statutory) the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the National Security Advisor, the Homeland Security Advisor, and the Representative of the United States to the United Nations...

"The Principals Committee (PC) shall continue to serve as the Cabinet-level senior interagency forum for considering policy issues that affect the national security interests of the United States. The PC shall be convened and chaired by the National Security Advisor or the Homeland Security Advisor ... The Chair shall determine the agenda in consultation with the appropriate committee members...

"The PC shall have as its regular attendees the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, the Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist, the National Security Advisor, and the Homeland Security Advisor. The Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shall attend where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed."

I was surprised to learn of this memo and read its contents. I will wait for the dust to settle a bit before commenting much further. But on the surface, the DNI and CJCS in my mind have to be considered as major instruments of national security policy, so I do not understand why they are not standing members of the PC.

Michael Flynn, Lt. General USA (Ret.) is the National Security Advisor. It appears he chairs the PC. That means to me he is the one who has pressed for exclusion of the DNI and CJCS, a move that I simply do not understand. For the moment, I agree with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates who said on January 29, 2017 that removing the two was a big mistake. He said:

"My biggest concern is there are actually, under the law, only two statutory advisers to the National Security Council and that's the Director of Central Intelligence, or the DNI, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I think pushing them out of the National Security Council meetings, except when their specific issues are at stake, is a big mistake. I think that they both bring a perspective and judgment and experience to bear that every president, whether they like it or not, finds useful."

I have questions about Flynn's appointment to this position. However, I have enormous respect for his deputy. Ms. K.T. McFarland. It is hard for me to believe she went along with this.

Let's wait for further developments. (012917)

Is it to battle stations with China?


PRC foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a January 24, 2017 news briefing in Beijing "China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters ... The United States is not a party to the South China Sea issue." If the PRC chooses to enforce this threat, I believe it will be "battle stations." Voice of America has reported this issue is highest on Trump's China agenda. USN ships and aircraft and USAF aircraft have all gone into the areas China claims as its own. Thus far, no hostilities. But thus far China has done nothing to enforce the claim. SecState Nominee Tillerson has said: "We're going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed." Hang on Sloopy. (012417)

USMC F-35B deploys to Japan


The first group of USMC F-35B fighter aircraft from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 "Green Knights" arrived at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan on January 18, 2017. The photo shows one landing at Iwakuni. A total of ten are expected to arrive this month, and another six over the summer, to total 16. Iwakuni has served as a forward deployed base for a squadron of F/A-18D Hornet fighters. In addition, the USS Wasp will replace the USS Bonhomme Richard at Sasebo, Japan in Fall 2017 as a 7th Fleet's forward deployed naval force. The Wasp has been modified and tested to accept and launch F-35B aircraft. The F-35 has a vertical takeoff and landing configuration. The Wasp has been employing the Av-8B Harrier Jump Jet. I do not know whether the F-35s will remain at Iwakuni with the AV-8s remaining aboard the Wasp, or whether the V-8s will leave the Wasp for other duties. (011817)

US ground forces deploying to eastern Europe


Several US Army units have recently deployed to eastern Europe. The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team (BCT Armor), 4th Infantry Division (ID) arrived in Poland on January 12, 2017. About 3,500 troops are involved. The unit was accompanied by a full set of tanks and artillery. The equipment has been arriving at Bremerhaven, Germany port and has been transported to Poland by train, commercial-line hack and military convoy, including the M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer shown here. It is my understanding such forces will be permanently located in Poland, though different units will rotate in and out. This will be a nine month deployment, after which another unit will rotate in, back-to-back. The 3rd BCT (Armor) will headquarter at Zagan, Poland. Also on January 12, 2017, troops from the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry have arrived in Poland from Germany. They are on their way to Romania. A squadron of troops from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment is due to deploy in April no northeastern Poland. (011217)