Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Air Force’

Senior Islamic State commanders killed in Afghanistan air strike: U.S. military

August 13, 2017

By Josh Smith

Reuters

KABUL (Reuters) – Several senior members of Islamic State’s central Asian affiliate were killed in a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan, officials said on Sunday.

The attack on Thursday killed Abdul Rahman, identified by the U.S. military as the Kunar provincial emir for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan, according to a statement from the command in Kabul.

“The death of Abdul Rahman deals yet another blow to the senior leadership of ISIS-K,” said General John Nicholson, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

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Abdul Rahman

Three other senior ISIS-K members were also among those killed in the strike in eastern Kunar province.

Nicholson has vowed to defeat Islamic State militants in Afghanistan this year.

The group’s emir, Abu Sayed, was reported killed in a strike on his headquarters in Kunar in July, the third Islamic State emir in Afghanistan to be killed since July 2016.

In April, Nicholson deployed a 21,600-pound (9,797 kg) “Massive Ordnance Air Blast” bomb against Islamic State positions in neighboring Nangarhar province, one of the largest conventional weapons ever used by the United States in combat.

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Smoke rises after the U.S. strikes positions during an ongoing operation against ISIS in Nangarhar province

On Saturday, Afghan officials said as many as 16 civilians, including women and children, had been killed by a U.S. air strike in Nangarhar, but American officials said only militants were killed.

As part of an increased campaign against both Islamic State and the Taliban, the dominant Islamist militant group in Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force has dropped nearly 2,000 weapons in the country as of the end of July, compared to fewer than 1,400 in all of last year.

Despite some battlefield successes by Afghan and American special operations troops, Islamic State has continued deadly attacks around Afghanistan, fueling fears that the group is seeking to bring the group’s Middle East conflict to Central Asia.

Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Kim Coghill

North Korea Threat Comes After Trump Vows ‘Fire and Fury’

August 9, 2017

After president warns against making any more threats to the U.S, North Korea says it is considering plan to launch missiles at Guam

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North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency shows the second intercontinental ballistic missile launched from an undisclosed site in the North. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Is North Korea Close to Being a Nuclear Weapons State?
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President Donald Trump discusses North Korea on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. President Donald Trump Tuesday threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury.” Photo Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

President Donald Trump bluntly warned North Korea against making any more threats to the U.S., saying the country “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Within hours of Mr. Trump’s comments, North Korea made its most specific threat against the U.S. yet. Through its official media, North Korea said it was considering firing missiles at Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, and making the U.S. “the first to experience the might of the strategic weapons of the DPRK”—the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s formal name.

Mr. Trump’s stark comments reflect deep concern in the administration about the progress North Korea has made in recent months on its nuclear-weapons program, as well as provocative statements this week that seemingly rejected negotiations over curbing that program.

The president’s brief remarks at his golf resort in New Jersey likely were aimed both at North Korea, which this week openly threatened to use nuclear weapons, and at China, in hopes of alarming the Chinese into doing their part to enforce new United Nations economic sanctions against North Korea.

Meanwhile, a senior Trump administration official said Tuesday that Washington shouldn’t assume it will be able to contain a North Korea with nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles through traditional deterrence methods.

“We are not going to allow North Korea to hold American cities hostage,” the official said.

Mr. Trump vowed in January that North Korea wouldn’t develop a nuclear weapon capable of striking parts of the U.S.

While North Korea’s state media regularly threatens strikes on the U.S. homeland and other U.S. military assets in Asia, they are usually vague in detail and rarely linked directly to an order from the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A spokesman for the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army was quoted in state media as saying that the operational plan would be “soon reported to the Supreme Command” and “will be put into practice in a multi-concurrent and consecutive way any moment once Kim Jong Un, supreme commander of the nuclear force of the DPRK, makes a decision.”

In a statement published through its state media, North Korea’s military urged the U.S. to “clearly face up to the fact that the ballistic rockets of the Strategic Force of the KPA are now on constant standby, facing the Pacific Ocean.”

North Korea has conducted five nuclear weapons tests since 2006. U.S. officials long have believed the country has had the capability to produce a nuclear warhead small enough to travel atop a ballistic missile, though they also think North Korea faces technical hurdles.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said during congressional testimony in May that the North Korean leader “was photographed beside a nuclear warhead design and missile airframes to show that North Korea has warheads small enough to fit on a missile.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency concluded “with moderate confidence” in a 2013 report read during a public congressional hearing that North Korea possessed “nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles.” At the time, the agency believed their reliability was low.

Last month, the DIA also issued a new analysis concluding North Korea had produced nuclear weapons small enough to be carried by intercontinental ballistic missiles, U.S. officials confirmed.

The Washington Post first reported the existence of that analysis on Tuesday, which refers to an assessment of the capability by the broader intelligence community.What has worried U.S. officials most in recent months, though, is the rapid progression of the country’s program to field intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs—long-range weapons that would allow North Korea to rocket warheads through the atmosphere to hit the continental U.S.

North Korea conducted its first ICBM test on July 4 and followed up with a second ICBM teston July 28 that experts said put the continental U.S. firmly in range of a strike.

But so far experts disagree about whether the devices the country has tested have been able to survive re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere without disintegrating, according to analysts who have scrutinized footage of the test launches.

U.S. officials say there is also no indication yet that North Korea has tested whether its miniaturized nuclear warhead can withstand re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere.

In its remarks, published by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, North Korea cited recent routine U.S. tests of American intercontinental ballistic missiles and U.S. Air Force flyovers of the Korean Peninsula this week as reasons for its move.

The report said a missile attack would use the Hwasong-12 and target the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, from which the U.S. has sent its B-1B bombers several times this year to fly over the Korean Peninsula.

A U.S. Pacific Command spokesman confirmed American B-1B bombers conducted a flyover this week.

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Will Latest Round of North Korea Sanctions Work?
Over the weekend the U.N. Security Council voted to impose the harshest economic sanctions yet on North Korea over their nuclear weapons programs. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib examines whether Pyongyang will walk through the door the diplomatic effort has opened for them. Photo: Getty

The missile and air force flyovers, North Korea said, were “driving the regional situation to an extreme pitch by bringing various kinds of nuclear strategic hardware before the very eyes of the DPRK.”

“War is by no means a game,” North Korea said in one of its reports Wednesday. “We do not hide that we already have in full readiness the diversified strategic nuclear strike means which have the U.S. mainland in our striking range.”

The progress North Korea has made on its nuclear weapons program has presented Mr. Trump’s administration with one of the toughest national-security challenges in a generation. Officials fear Mr. Kim could soon possess a weapon that can hold U.S. cities hostage with mass destruction, a threat administration officials say they won’t accept.

The Trump administration notched a significant win in its effort to push back on North Korea’s threats at the U.N. on Saturday, when China joined the Security Council in unanimously passing a sanctions resolution aimed at slashing about $1 billion from North Korea’s annual foreign export revenue. A senior administration official said Tuesday that China’s vote showed that Beijing was increasingly viewing North Korea as a strategic liability rather than an asset.

Whether the sanctions can work fast enough to prevent Mr. Kim from obtaining the capability to strike the U.S. with nuclear weapons remains unclear.

Mr. Trump’s remarks Tuesday appeared to echo those that President Harry S. Truman made in 1945 after ordering the use of a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and demanding Japan’s surrender during World War II. Mr. Truman warned that if the Japanese failed to accept the U.S. terms of surrender, “they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”

Mr. Trump didn’t make clear what actions by North Korea would trigger such a dramatic U.S. response, or what precisely it would have to do to prevent it, raising the prospect of a miscommunication between Washington and Pyongyang at a moment of heightened tensions.

Republican Sen. John McCain, in an interview with Arizona radio station KTAR on Tuesday, said of Mr. Trump’s remarks: “That kind of rhetoric, I’m not sure how it helps. … I take exception to the president’s words because you got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do.”

The administration has emphasized that it is leaving all options on the table, including military intervention. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the U.S. isn’t seeking a regime change in North Korea and urged the country to stop its missile tests and enter a dialogue with Washington.

One calculation the Trump administration must make is whether Mr. Kim is seeking the capability only to guarantee the survival of his regime, or whether he plans to leverage his newfound nuclear arsenal to pursue geostrategic aims in the region. For example, the Kim regime has long sought to divide the U.S. from its ally in South Korea and harbored ambitions of reunifying the Korean Peninsula on its own terms.

“I believe that any approach that somehow gives North Korea nuclear status is a mistake, because I think what they’re ultimately after is to try to decouple us from South Korea,” said Christopher R. Hill, former assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and former U.S. ambassador to South Korea.

Mr. Hill outlined a scenario in which North Korea develops a nuclear warhead that can strike the U.S. and then mounts a conventional invasion of South Korea to reunite the peninsula. Pyongyang could threaten the U.S. with a nuclear strike on a U.S. city should American forces come to South Korea’s aid, forcing Washington to choose between the homeland and its ally.

The senior Trump administration official said the U.S. doesn’t have the luxury of assuming Mr. Kim won’t pursue grand geopolitical ambitions once he obtains a reliable nuclear arsenal.

“There are some who believe he seeks these weapons to maintain the status quo on the peninsula,” the official said. “But if you listen to what he himself has said at various times, it looks as if he has grand ambitions to change the status quo on the peninsula.”

Write to Paul Sonne at paul.sonne@wsj.com, Shane Harris at shane.harris@wsj.com and Jonathan Cheng at jonathan.cheng@wsj.com

Appeared in the August 9, 2017, print edition as ‘Trump Warns North Korea: Stop Threats.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-warns-north-korea-not-to-make-further-threats-1502221218

Russian, NATO Planes Play Risky Game Over Baltic Sea

July 12, 2017

More adversarial flights, close intercepts raise concerns of accidents and escalation

NATO and Russian pilots are reviving a Cold War contest of nerves, increasing the risk that airborne close encounters could accidentally spark a conflict.

Over the past three years, the number of adversarial flights near the other side’s planes and ships have increased significantly. The tactic, usually meant as a show of force or used to test tactics, revives a dormant game of chicken long played by Soviet and North Atlantic Treaty Organization pilots.

It was a risky game: Aircraft sometimes narrowly avoided midair collisions, and opposing ships occasionally collided at sea. NATO officials now worry about a new phase of reckless gamesmanship and its consequences.

A U.S. RC-135U, flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, is intercepted by a Russian SU-27 Flanker on June 19.
A U.S. RC-135U, flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, is intercepted by a Russian SU-27 Flanker on June 19. PHOTO: MASTER SGT. CHARLES LARKIN SR./U.S. AIR FORCE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Concerns have risen to the point where they now figure large in conversations between NATO and Russia. The NATO-Russia Council, a body established in 2002 to encourage cooperation and consultation between Moscow and the alliance, is set to meet Thursday to discuss large-scale Russian exercises in September. Western officials worry the exercises could lead to a new surge in midair incidents.

The Baltic Sea has become the focal point for this new white-knuckle geopolitical tussle. Rhetoric is rising in the region, where newer NATO members on Russia’s border are nervous and Russia’s military has shown a willingness to use close intercepts as political messages.

NATO and U.S. officials believe an accidental air-to-air collision, or a plane crashing into a ship, is one of the most dangerous threats facing the alliance. A deadly mishap could engender an escalation—with each side accusing the other of provocation.

“What we see in the Baltic Sea is increased military activity—we see it on land, at sea and in the air, and that just underlines the importance of transparency and predictability to prevent incidents and accidents,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. “And if they happen, it is important to make sure they don’t spiral out of control and create dangerous situations.”

Allies are expected to raise the issue of the intercepts at Thursday’s meeting, officials said. Allied officials said risk reduction in the Baltic Sea is a concern, in particular in light of what one NATO official called “unsafe and unprofessional behaviors by Russian pilots.”

The air-safety issue has been discussed in that forum before, but it is taking on renewed urgency because of the coming exercises and several close calls this year.

Global Zero, a research and advocacy group that opposes nuclear weapons, analyzed 97 midair confrontations between Western and Russian military aircraft over the Baltic between March 2014 and April 2017, more than two-thirds the global total of air intercepts in that period. Such confrontations were rarer in the decade before Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in early 2014.

Markers are already down. The U.S. recently accused a Russian Su-27 jet fighter of unsafely intercepting an American reconnaissance plane on June 19 and flying erratically just yards away from it.

Two days later, Russian television broadcast footage appeared to show a Polish F-16 approaching a plane with the Russian defense minister on board. A Russian Su-27 fighter then zooms into the picture, performing what the Russians described as a warning maneuver before flying away. The channel quoted Russian military expert Alexander Zhilin as saying the allied pilots “are conducting themselves simply like bandits.”

Poland has said its plane was on a NATO patrol mission when it intercepted the Russian jet. NATO officials have said there was nothing unprofessional about the intercept.

Western officials and the Global Zero report say it is Russian pilots who more often undertake unsafe intercepts. Some, they say, are accidents, some negligence, and others intentional shows of force.

Lukasz Kulesa, research director at the European Leadership Network, a London-based think tank, said some of the most recent incidents “seem to be connected to sending a message to the other side.”

Mr. Kulesa noted that Russian aircraft approached American spy planes over the Baltic Sea shortly after an escalation in the confrontation between the U.S.-led coalition and the Syrian regime that led to the shooting down of a pro-regime drone and Syrian warplane by American aircraft.

“It’s a way to say that we, the Russians, are displeased with your behavior,” Mr. Kulesa said.

A Russian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft flying over the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea in April 2016.
A Russian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft flying over the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea in April 2016. PHOTO: US NAVY/REUTERS

Some allied and U.S. officials believe the Russian government uses confrontations to turn up and down the pressure in the region for geopolitical advantage, ordering pilots to be cautious or to approach more aggressively.

Moscow denies this and that their pilots are at fault, saying it is the West that has been eroding security by building up its military forces on Russia’s borders.

NATO and Russia are working to agree on “risk reduction” measures in the Baltic region. Western and Russian officials say progress is a test of each side’s seriousness about dialogue despite deep suspicion.

“We share the view dialogue is important,” Alexander Grushko, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, said last month. “The prevention of military incidents demands…systemic communications between the two militaries, and discussions [by] military experts.”

Finland has organized one discussion between NATO and Russia on safety measures and proposed requiring all planes to use transponders. Allied officials have reacted skeptically to the transponder measure, noting many Russian military aircraft don’t have transponders. American reconnaissance planes also don’t always operate with them on.

Many Western official fear the large military exercises Russia and Belarus are planning for the fall will raise the risk of an incident. In a sign of the concern about potential provocations by Russia, the U.S. adjusted the rotation of fighter planes for the NATO air-policing mission in the Baltic, so that its planes rather than those of less-experienced pilots from other NATO countries would be on alert during the Russian exercises in the fall.

When Russia begins its major exercise, called Zapad or West, over the Baltic airspace in September, Sweden will be conducting its own, called Aurora, joined by a number of NATO countries,.

“We hope everyone keeps calm,” Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö said.

Write to Nathan Hodge at nathan.hodge@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/russian-nato-planes-contest-airspace-over-baltic-sea-1499868000?tesla=y&mod=e2fb

U.S. Shows Off ‘Attack Capabilities’ After North Korea Missile Test

July 8, 2017

B-1B bombers dropped inert weapons on training range in South Korea during flyover drill

One of two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber is seen from a refueling aircraft during a mission to fly in the vicinity of Kyushu, Japan, the East China Sea, and the Korean peninsula on June 20, 2017.

One of two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber is seen from a refueling aircraft during a mission to fly in the vicinity of Kyushu, Japan, the East China Sea, and the Korean peninsula on June 20, 2017. PHOTO: HANDOUT/REUTERS

SEOUL—The U.S. sent two B-1B bombers to the Korean Peninsula to practice “attack capabilities” with South Korean jet fighters on Friday, the latest show of force by the U.S. military following North Korea’s first-ever intercontinental ballistic missile test launch on Tuesday.

The joint exercise, which included U.S. F-16 fighters jets as well as fighter planes from the South Korean and Japanese air forces, came a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said in Warsaw on Thursday that he was considering “some pretty severe things” in response to North Korea’s latest actions.

Friday’s flyover also followed a joint missile-defense drill by the U.S. and South Korean armies on Korea’s east coast Wednesday.

The 10-hour flight drill on Friday was conducted “in response to a series of increasingly escalatory actions by North Korea,” the U.S. Pacific Air Forces said in a statement late Friday.

“North Korea’s actions are a threat to our allies, partners and homeland,” Gen. Terrence O’ Shaughnessy, Pacific Air Forces commander, said in a statement. “Let me be clear, if called upon we are trained, equipped and ready to unleash the full lethal capability of our allied air forces.”

During the drill, two B-1B bombers flew from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam to the Korean Peninsula where they released inert weapons on an air force training range in South Korea, about 90 miles south of the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean Peninsula. They were joined by South Korean and U.S. F-16 jet fighters during the mission.

The B-1Bs then flew with Japanese F-2 jet fighters over the East China Sea before returning to Guam.

The U.S. has been making shows of force in recent months in response to perceived increases in tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Twice in May, the U.S. sent B-1B bombers on flyovers near the Korean Peninsula. Each came shortly after a North Korean missile test.

In April, the U.S. said it was sending the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the western Pacific to underscore Washington’s commitment to the region. In that case, the announcement instead raised questions about U.S. credibility after it came to light that the aircraft carrier was thousands of miles away.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters in an impromptu briefing at the Pentagon that “we are leading with diplomatic and economic efforts.”

But he also called North Korea’s ICBM launch a “very serious escalation” and warned the North that any effort to start a war “would lead to severe consequences.”

Separately on Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a speech in Berlin that he was seeking more engagement with North Korea, and would be willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “at any time, at any place,” provided certain conditions were met.

In its statement following Friday’s air force exercise, the U.S. said that it “maintains flexible bomber and jet fighter capabilities” in the region and could “quickly respond to any regional threat.”

The U.S. bombers and South Korean fighters “are just two of many lethal military options at our disposal,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas Bergeson, deputy commander of the U.S. military in South Korea.

“This mission clearly demonstrates the U.S.-ROK alliance remains prepared to use the full range of capabilities to defend and to preserve the security of the Korean Peninsula and region,” Lt. Gen. Bergeson added, using the acronym for South Korea’s formal name, the Republic of Korea.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at jonathan.cheng@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-practice-attack-capabilities-with-south-korea-1499486950?mod=e2fb

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U.S. bombers challenge China in South China Sea flyover

July 7, 2017

Reuters

FILE PHOTO – A B-1B Lancer from the U.S. Air Force 28th Air Expeditionary Wing heads out on a combat mission in support of strikes on Afghanistan in this file picture released December 7, 2001. Cedric H.Rudisill/USAF/Handout via REUTERS

Two U.S bombers flew over the disputed South China Sea, the U.S. Air Force said in a statement on Friday, asserting the right to treat the region as international territory, despite China’s territorial claims in the busy waterway.

Before their flight on Thursday, the two B-1Bs trained with Japanese jet fighters in the neighboring East China Sea, the first time the two forces have ever conducted night-time drills.

That U.S. military activity came amid heightened tension in the region after North Korea claimed it has developed a long range missile that could threaten the United States.

The U.S. wants China to do more to pressure Pyongyang to halt its research into missiles and nuclear bombs.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

North Korea Protests Flyover of U.S. Bombers

May 2, 2017

Dustup over flyover occurs as CIA Director Mike Pompeo wraps up a three-day visit to South Korea

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer and two F-15K Slam Eagles fly over Korean skies in September.

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer and two F-15K Slam Eagles fly over Korean skies in September. PHOTO: CHIEF MASTER SGT. KYEONG RYUL/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

SEOUL—North Korea complained Tuesday about a flyover of a pair of U.S. supersonic bombers, as the Central Intelligence Agency’s director wrapped up a three-day visit to South Korea and the U.S. declared a missile-defense system that it is installing in South Korea operational.

The flurry of activity on the Korean Peninsula underscores U.S. President Donald Trump’s continuing focus on North Korea as he seeks a way to contain the threat from Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

It also came a day after Mr. Trump said that he would be “honored” to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

White House Turns to Asia on North Korea Threat
The White House has sought insights from the leaders of China, Japan, and the Philippines on how to deal with the North Korean threat. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains what to look out for in the coming weeks. Photo: Getty

On Monday, the U.S. Air Force flew two B-1B Lancer supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula with the South Korean air force, according to a spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry, as part of exercises aimed at deterring the North.

Two supersonic B-1B Lancers (file picture) were deployed in a joint training exercise with the Japanese air forces over the Korean Peninsula amid heightened tensions between Pyongyang and Washington

Two supersonic B-1B Lancers (file picture) were deployed

North Korea’s state media lashed out at the flight on Tuesday, complaining that it was taking place at a time “when Trump and other U.S. warmongers are crying out for making a pre-emptive nuclear strike at the DPRK,” using an abbreviation for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The reckless military provocation is pushing the situation on the Korean Peninsula closer to the brink of nuclear war,” Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency said. It added that the North Korean military “is keenly watching the military movement of the U.S. imperialists,” and could respond with nuclear arms, repeating a frequent threat made in North Korea’s media.

The exchange over the flyover came as CIA Director Mike Pompeo wrapped up a three-day visit to South Korea, where he toured Yeonpyeong Island, the site of the most recent serious military engagement between the two Koreas, in November 2010.

During the visit to Yeonpyeong Island and the disputed inter-Korean waters around the island, Mr. Pompeo was able to “gain a firsthand appreciation of the North Korean threat to South Korea,” according to a statement from U.S. Forces Korea, which oversees the military’s various combat forces in South Korea.

Mr. Pompeo also met with South Korea’s top spy chief. Mr. Pompeo’s visit was the fourth high-level trip to South Korea this year, following tours by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence.

Earlier in the day on Tuesday, USFK declared the missile-defense system that it is installing in South Korea, Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, operational, stirring controversy just one week before a South Korean election that is expected to vote into office a presidential candidate who has called for an immediate halt to the missile battery’s deployment.

Thaad is “operational and has the ability to intercept North Korean missiles and defend the Republic of Korea,” USFK said.

The speedy deployment of the missile-defense system comes days after a series of statements from senior White House officials about whether South Korea should pay for the $1 billion Lockheed Martin Corp. battery, upending expectations in Seoul about the status of an agreement last year that said the U.S. would pay for it.

It also comes in the midst of a snap election that looks set to elevate to the presidency Moon Jae-in, a candidate who has called for more distance from Washington and an immediate halt to the deployment of Thaad. Mr. Moon says any decision on deploying Thaad should be made by the next South Korean administration, in consultation with the public.

China also opposes the Thaad missile system. At a regular press briefing on Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang repeated calls for an immediate halt to the deployment of the Thaad battery, pledging to take any necessary measures to protect Beijing’s interests.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at jonathan.cheng@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/north-korea-protests-flyover-of-u-s-bombers-1493734379?mod=e2twp

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U.S. sends nuclear sniffer plane to Korea

April 20, 2017

SEOUL, April 20 (Yonhap) — The U.S. Air Force dispatched a nuclear sniffer aircraft Thursday to the east of the Korean Peninsula amid the possibility of North Korea’s imminent nuclear test, a government source said.

“The WC-135 Constant Phoenix, a special-purpose U.S. plane, made an emergency sortie today over the East Sea,” the source said, requesting anonymity.

Its mission is to collect samples from the atmosphere in order to detect and identity a nuclear explosion.

The U.S. Air Force's WC-135 Constant Phoenix sniffer plane in a file photo. (Yonhap)

The U.S. Air Force’s WC-135 Constant Phoenix sniffer plane in a file photo. (Yonhap)

It arrived at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, early this month amid indications that the North is preparing for another nuclear test.

Thursday’s flight appears meant to check whether the secretive communist nation has detonated a nuclear bomb.

Image may contain: airplane, sky and outdoor

USAF WC-135 Constant Phoenix

It also tests operational readiness in the event of an actual provocation by the North, added the source.

There was an unconfirmed rumor that North Korea has notified China of its nuclear experiment plan.

South Korea’s military said earlier the North seems all set to conduct what would be its sixth nuclear test at its Punggye-ri site in its northeastern region anytime on the leadership’s decision.

lcd@yna.co.kr

(END)

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Russian bombers again fly near Alaska — Second night in a row — U.S. Air Force did not scramble fighters

April 19, 2017

Fox News

For the second consecutive night, Russia flew two long-range bombers off the coast of Alaska on Tuesday, this time coming within 36 miles of the mainland while flying north of the Aleutian Islands, two U.S. officials told Fox News.

The two nuclear-capable Tu-95H bombers were spotted by U.S. military radar at 5 p.m. local time.

Image result for photos, two bear bombers

Two Russian Bear bombers. File photo

Unlike a similar incident Monday night, this time the U.S. Air Force did not scramble any fighter jets.

Instead, it launched a single E-3 Sentry early warning aircraft, known as AWACS, to make sure there were only the two Russian bombers flying near Alaska, and not other aircraft flying underneath the large bombers.

U.S. territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from shore.

Two Russian bombers flew within 100 miles of Alaska on Monday night.

The Russian bombers took off from an airbase in Petropavlovsk, Russia and returned five hours later to an airbase in Anadyr. Both locations are in eastern Russia, some 1,000 miles away.

Last week in Moscow, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said U.S.-Russian relations were at a “low point” during a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

While Tillerson was in Moscow, a trio of Russian bombers flew near the east coast of Japan, forcing the Japanese military to scramble 14 fighter jets at various times to intercept the bombers. A Russian spy plane traversed Japan’s west coast.

Before Monday’s flight near Alaska, the last time Russian bombers flew near the U.S. was July 4, 2015, when a pair of Russian bombers flew off the coasts of Alaska and California, coming as close as 40 miles to Mendocino, Calif.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called then-President Barack Obama to wish him a happy Independence Day while the bombers cruised the California coastline.

In February, a Russian spy ship sailed up and down the East Coast of the U.S. while remaining in international waters.

Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/04/19/russian-bombers-again-fly-near-alaska.html

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Pentagon Announces Deployment of 5th-Gen F-35A Fighters to Europe — U.S. response to the “Russian threat.”

April 14, 2017

SPUTNIK

The Pentagon has announced the deployment of fifth-generation F-35A fighter jets to Europe this weekend.

The US Department of Defense said that the F-35A Lightning II fighters are sent to Europe to conduct training for several weeks as part of the European Reassurance Initiative.

“The US Air Force will deploy a small number of F-35A Lightning II aircraft this weekend on a long-planned training deployment to Europe,” US Department of Defense said in a release on Friday.

The Pentagon said the deployment represents “natural progression” of the F-35 program and would allow to demonstrate operational capabilities of the jets.

“It also assists in refining requirements for eventually basing the F-35A in Europe, which is scheduled to receive the aircraft in the early 2020s,” the release added.

The F-35 Lightning II is a fifth generation fighter jet, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information and network-enabled operations.Three variants of the F-35 jet are being introduced into the Air Force (F-35 A), Navy (F-35C), Marines (F-35B).

Image result for F-35A Lightning II, photos

F-35 jets are set to be deployed to Europe on a permanent basis in the beginning of 2020s.

The creation of the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) was announced by US President Barack Obama in 2014 as an alleged response to the “Russian threat.” The ERI was established in the 2015 budget as a one-year, $1 billion emergency response.

https://sputniknews.com/military/201704141052649679-europe-f35-pentagon/

U.S. Pilots See Close Calls With Russian Jets Over Syria

January 9, 2017

As planes share crowded airspace fighting parallel wars, militaries struggle to minimize threat of an accident

A U.S. F-15 Strike Eagle fighter flies over the Euphrates River in Iraq.
A U.S. F-15 Strike Eagle fighter flies over the Euphrates River in Iraq. PHOTO: MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
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Jan. 9, 2017 11:16 a.m. ET

One night this past fall, a U.S. radar plane flying a routine pattern over Syria picked up a signal from an incoming Russian fighter jet.

The American crew radioed repeated warnings on a frequency universally used for distress signals. The Russian pilot didn’t respond.

Instead, as the U.S. plane began a wide sweep to the south, the Russian fighter, an advanced Su-35 Flanker, turned north and east across the American plane’s nose, churned up a wave of turbulent air in its path and briefly disrupted its sensitive electronics.

“We assessed that guy to be within one-eighth of a mile—a few hundred feet away—and unaware of it,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Paul Birch, commander of the 380th Expeditionary Operations Group, a unit based in the Persian Gulf.

A Russian Su-35 Flanker fighter shadows U.S. F-15s as they refuel over Syria in September. The photo, taken by a camera on one of the American planes, shows the Russian pilot far closer than the three-mile safety limit set in a 2015 U.S.-Russian agreement.
A Russian Su-35 Flanker fighter shadows U.S. F-15s as they refuel over Syria in September. The photo, taken by a camera on one of the American planes, shows the Russian pilot far closer than the three-mile safety limit set in a 2015 U.S.-Russian agreement. PHOTO: U.S. AIR FORCE
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The skies above Syria are an international incident waiting to happen, according to American pilots. It is an unprecedented situation in which for months U.S. and Russian jets have crowded the same airspace fighting parallel wars, with American pilots bombing Islamic State worried about colliding with Russian pilots bombing rebels trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Russian warplanes, which also attack Islamic State targets, are still flying daily over Syria despite the recent cease-fire in Moscow’s campaign against the anti-Assad forces, according to the U.S. Air Force.

The U.S. and Russian militaries have a year-old air safety agreement, but American pilots still find themselves having close calls with Russian aviators either unaware of the rules of the road, or unable or unwilling to follow them consistently.

“Rarely, if ever, do they respond verbally,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, who flies combat missions in a stealth fighter. “Rarely, if ever, do they move. We get out of the way. We don’t know what they can see or not see, and we don’t want them running into one of us.”

Complicating the aerial traffic jam, the Russian planes don’t emit identifying signals, flouting international protocols.

U.S. combat aircraft in Iraqi airspace, part of Operation Inherent Resolve, can remain above their targets for hours without having to land, refueling midair via KC-10 tankers. Photo: Michael M. Phillips
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The Russian Ministry of Defense didn’t respond to written requests for comment on the actions of Russian pilots over Syria.

The aerial anxiety adds to bilateral tensions between the U.S. and Russia, already rising over Moscow’s increasingly assertive role in propping up Mr. Assad, its alleged interference in the U.S. presidential campaign and its earlier seizure of Crimea. In this environment, American commanders worry that a collision could become a flash-point.

“If an aircraft crashes, it is statistically more likely that it’s some type of mechanical problem that caused that crash, rather than someone shooting down an airplane,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Daniel Manning. “But in the fog and friction of war, people will be predisposed to conclude there’s some type of malign activity that took down that aircraft.”

In 2015, U.S. and Russian commanders signed a four-page memorandum of understanding intended to keep their warplanes from crashing into each other or shooting each other down.

Now senior military officials at the Pentagon are pushing to boost the communications and coordination between the two militaries. Under the proposal, three-star generals at the Pentagon would routinely discuss Mideast operations with their counterparts in Moscow. One impetus for the Pentagon effort is the belief that President-elect Donald Trump may want to increase cooperation with Moscow in the region, senior military officials say.

For the moment, day-to-day efforts to avoid a midair catastrophe go through Col. Manning, a Russian speaker who works out of Al Udeid air base in Qatar. Col. Manning has three scheduled calls a week with his Russian counterpart, a colonel based in Syria, to clear airspace for both militaries’ operations. Most weeks they have impromptu talks daily. When combat operations are especially intense, the two colonels might talk 10 times a day, as they did last month, when U.S. aircraft destroyed 168 tanker trucks delivering oil for Islamic State.

In addition, a senior Pentagon civilian leads a video teleconference on Syria every six to eight weeks with her Russian counterpart.

Air Force technicians at a Persian Gulf base prepare 1,000-pound bombs for airstrikes against Islamic State.
Air Force technicians at a Persian Gulf base prepare 1,000-pound bombs for airstrikes against Islamic State.PHOTO: MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
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One of the most serious mishaps so far was caused by the U.S. In September, an American airstrike intended to hit Islamic State militants in Deir Ezzour, Syria, killed dozens of Syrian government troops instead.

The incident highlighted vulnerabilities in the colonel-to-colonel hotline. The day of the strikes, Col. Manning was away from the Qatari base that houses the American air operations center. After the strikes began, a Russian officer called on the hotline and asked to speak to another U.S. colonel he knew. That American wasn’t available. The Russian hung up, and 27 minutes passed before the Russians called back to warn the Americans they were bombing the wrong target, according to U.S. defense officials.

At the time, the Russian military issued a statement saying: “If the airstrike was caused by erroneous coordinates of targets, it is a direct consequence of the stubborn unwillingness of the American side to coordinate with Russia [on] its actions against terrorist groups in Syria.”

Col. Manning said the current coordination efforts are making the war safer.

“We continue to assess that the Russian have no intent to harm coalition forces in the air or on the ground,” he said. “Because we believe there is no malign intent towards the coalition forces, we’re able to de-conflict.”

But things look different from the cockpit, and U.S. pilots say the Russians sometimes seem to be pushing the limits just to see if they can get away with it.

It’s a situation further complicated by the soup of aircraft conducting combat missions, including Americans, Russians, Syrians, Australians, Britons, Danes, Turks, Emiratis, Saudis and Jordanians. On any given day, there are usually 50 to 75 manned and unmanned coalition aircraft over Raqqa, the Islamic State stronghold in Syria, and another 150 or so over heavily contested Mosul, Iraq, according to one U.S. radar officer. The 64-member coalition—Russia is not a member—had conducted more than 51,500 sorties against Islamic State, two-thirds of them by U.S. aircraft, as of mid-December.

The 2015 agreement between the U.S. and Russia led to negotiation of what Americans call the “rule of threes.” Pilots should keep at least three nautical miles of separation horizontally, or 3,000 feet vertically. Should they get closer, they’ll remain for no more than three minutes.

“We’ve agreed to coexist peacefully,” said Gen. Corcoran.

But the Russians are prone to ignoring the conventions of air safety, according to the American pilots. Planes world-wide carry transponders that emit a four-digit code allowing air-traffic controllers to identify them, a practice called squawking. Russian planes over Syria don’t squawk, and they appear as an unidentified bleep to allied radar installations.

Nor do the Russians usually answer “guard calls,” urgent summons on a common emergency radio frequency. In one eight-hour shift on Dec. 11, for instance, the crew of a U.S. radar plane, called an AWACS, made 22 such calls to some 10 Russian planes and received not a single response. A few of the Russians approached within five miles of allied aircraft.

The controller aboard the AWACS scattered U.S. planes to keep them clear of the Russians. “We’ve had several co-altitude incidents,” the officer said, referring to planes flying too close together.

Russian pilots have sometimes broken their silence when contacted by a female air-traffic controller.

In early September, a female U.S. air-surveillance officer spotted an unidentified plane approaching allied aircraft over Syria. “You’re operating in the vicinity of coalition aircraft,” she warned the pilot.

A heavy Russian accent emerged through the static: “You have a nice voice, lady. Good evening.”

Brig Gen Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, returns from a bombing mission.
Brig Gen Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, returns from a bombing mission.PHOTO: MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
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“Some of the closest calls I’m convinced they don’t know we’re there,” said Gen. Corcoran.

That’s not always the case. In September, an Su-35 shadowed an American F-15 fighter as it ended a bombing run over Syria and pulled up to a tanker plane to refuel. The U.S. pilot filmed the Russian running alongside the American planes, about a mile-and-a-half away, said Col. Birch.

At times, Russian planes plow through tightly controlled groupings of allied aircraft over Raqqa. Russian bombers, flying to Syria via Iran, have crossed Iraq and disrupted allied flight patterns over the battlefields of Mosul.

Lt. Col. August “Pfoto” Pfluger, a stealth-fighter pilot, witnessed such an incident over Iraq in August. He compared the Russians’ behavior to jumping out of the stands at a professional football game and bolting onto the field.

“You just don’t do that,” he said.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-pilots-see-close-calls-with-russian-jets-over-syria-1483978574