Category: Military

The Pentagon considers this Russian Sniper Rifle a big threat to U.S. Soldiers. The NRA helped promote it.

By David Corn

In late 2016, the US Army released a report noting that the Russian military, through experience gained during fighting in Ukraine, was undergoing a transformation and becoming a more potent battlefield threat to American forces. One troublesome development identified by the report’s authors was the increased proficiency of Russian snipers. “The capabilities of a sniper in a Russian contingent is far more advanced than the precision shooters U.S. formations have encountered over the last 15 years,” the study noted. One reason for this was the Russian military’s recent adoption of the ORSIS T-5000, a relatively new Russian-made firearm that the report called “one of the most capable bolt action sniper rifles in the world.” As one military technology expert noted, after reviewing this report, the US Army faced “being outgunned” by foes armed with the T-5000—which can be accurate at a distance of 2,000 yards—and these Russian rifles were showing up in Iraq and Ukraine. That is, this weapon posed a threat to US troops and those of its allies. Yet the National Rifle Association—which boasts it is identified with American patriotism—has helped promote Moscow-based ORSIS and its sniper rifle.

In December 2015, as has been previously reported, the NRA sent a high-level delegation to Russia. The group included Peter Brownell, then the first vice president of the NRA; David Keene, a past president; Joe Gregory, a top NRA donor; and David Clarke, then the sheriff of Milwaukee County, who would become a top surrogate for Donald Trump. (Brownell became president of the NRA last year.) The trip was at least partially subsidized by a curious Russian gun rights organization called the Right to Bear Arms that has been associated with two Russians, Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin, who for years had been forging connections with conservative organizations and gun aficionados in the United States. (Torshin—a director of the Russian central bank, a former senator, and a close ally of Putin—has been accused of having ties to Russian organized crime, an allegation he has denied. During the 2016 campaign, Torshin and Butina tried to connect with Trump campaign officials.) The Right to Bear Arms paid $6,000 toward the cost of Clarke’s trip.

While in Russia, members of the NRA delegation met with Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister, who was sanctioned by the Obama administration the previous year in retaliation for Putin’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Rogozin was a hardliner who led the ultra-right party Rodina, and part of his government portfolio was of particular interest to the NRA representatives: the arms industry. When Rogozin became deputy prime minister in 2011, he was given the task of overseeing Russia’s military-industrial complex and reviving the nation’s weapons-making business through private-public partnerships. One early endeavor in this regard, according to a Russian publication called Defense and Security, involved ORSIS, a small, private company, which about this time began receiving government contracts. (For a spell, Rogozin’s son was a deputy director of the firm.)

In 2014, Pravda reported Russia, now facing sanctions blocking the sale of made-in-Russia guns to the United States and Europe, was looking to export ORSIS sniper rifles as part of its development of new markets for Russian weapons, and the Russian newspaper referred to the T-5000 as the “Rogozin rifle.” The paper noted, “Defense officials from the Philippines and Pakistan evinced interest in the so-called Rogozin rifle, advertised by Putin and [American actor] Steven Seagal. The countries offered to test sniper rifle ORSIS T-5000 on their territory. Similar proposals came from Malaysia and Indonesia.” (In 2013, ORSIS announced it would be making a sporting versionof its rifle endorsed by Seagal.)

While the NRA delegation was in Moscow, it visited the ORSIS offices and facilities. The group, accompanied by Butina, watched a video extolling the T-5000, toured the company’s manufacturing plant, and observed rifles being made. Then members of the delegation test-fired ORSIS rifles at an on-site shooting range. The company presented the NRAers with swanky watches bearing the company’s logo.

The NRA trip to ORSIS was of use to the Russian gunmaker. The company produced a video showing the NRA delegates oohing and aahing over the T-5000. The video was one in a series of short films promoting ORSIS and its weapons. The video was posted on YouTube four weeks after the visit.

For the US military, a concern regarding the proliferation of the T-5000 rifle is that it is one of the few Russian rifles that can pierce body armor used by American troops. As the National Interest reported in December, “The Russian involvement in Syria and Ukraine has provided a wealth of experience to the Russian military. One of the hallmarks of these engagements is the continued use of sniper tactics. As a result, the modern Russian sniper has evolved far beyond the relatively primitive technology used during the Cold War. Most notably, significant attention has been given to sniper systems that have the ability to penetrate body armor.” With the ORSIS T-5000, this article noted, the Russian military has “a formidable ability to defeat body armor at long ranges.”
“The concern of the US military,” says Olga Oliker, director of Russia and Eurasia programs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “is that this rifle has more range. The idea is a sniper at a tremendous distance can take out a few soldiers, cause great confusion, and a unit can then be hit with rocket strikes.” She notes that it is unlikely that American troops will have firefights with Russian forces anytime soon. “But will small, non-governmental forces, which won’t have rocket strikes, get these rifles, and can they do other things at a distance?” Oliker comments. “Possibly.”
And the ORSIS T-5000 has been spreading across the globe. During the February 2014 protests in Ukraine against then-President Viktor Yanukovych, dozens of protesters were killed by pro-government snipers, according to NBC News, and sniper teams supporting Yanukovych were armed with “Russian-made ORSIS rifles.” A 2017 post on noted the rifle had been “spotted” being used by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. In 2016, a pro-Kremlin Romanian military expert pointed out that Russia was supplying the Syrian army of Bashar al-Assad with T-5000 rifles. And last September, Sputnik, the Russian English-language propaganda outlet, reportedthat the T-5000 “has gained popularity among special forces in Russia, Iraq, Syria, China and Vietnam.”
The NRA has been under fire for its Russian links. The outfit has refused to provide Congress with complete information about funding it receives from overseas, including Russia. McClatchy has reported the FBI is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA to help Trump win the presidency. (The NRA was among the biggest pro-Trump spenders in the 2016 election.) And the ORSIS trip is another link between the NRA and Russia. The NRA did not respond to a request to explain whether the organization had any qualms about plugging a Russian weapon of concern to the US military.
This Russian rifle could be dangerous for American soldiers—and Russia has been arming its own military and security services with the weapon and distributing it around the world. In a recent article in Popular Mechanics, David Hambling, a military technology expert, notes that the T-5000 is changing “the shape of future battlefields” to the disadvantage of the United States. (“For now,” he notes, “the solution [for US forces] is simple—run.”) Still, the NRA—whom Trump has called “great American patriots” and whose convention he addressed on Friday—allowed itself to be used by ORSIS to promote the weapon. For the group, guns do seem to transcend all, including national security.

Initial cost for Trump military parade comes in at $12 million, DoD says

By Tara Copp

President Donald Trump’s requested military parade is expected to cost about $12 million, according to initial planning estimates, the Pentagon confirmed Wednesday.

The parade was initial set for Nov. 11, Veterans Day, but now will take place Nov. 10 to accomodate international celebrations on Nov. 11 set to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The parade costs were first reported by CNN.

The initial price tag could easily change, and no final plan has been approved yet, a defense official said on the condition of anonymity. The price would depend on the final numbers of troops and type of equipment involved, and how those troops will need to be transported to Washington, such as whether they would need to be moved by train.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney previously told Congress the price tage could be between $10 million and $30 million.

The parade date is just four months away, which raised questions on how Washington would be able to execute the needed security and planning, such as getting the permits and public bathrooms, that is required to accomodate a large public gathering.

The $12 million cost is roughly the same amount the military had planned to spend on its now-cancelled military exercises with South Korea. Trump directed the exercises to be cancelled citing their cost and saying the exercises were “very provocative” to North Korea.

“We stopped playing those ‘war games’ that cost us a fortune,” Trump said last month. The exercises were cancelled after his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

DoD stands up its artificial intelligence hub

WASHINGTON – The Defense Department has formally ordered the creation of a new hub for artificial intelligence research with Dana Deasy, the Pentagon’s new chief information officer, taking the lead.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan ordered the move in a June 27 memo. The Pentagon’s goal is to launch a series of AI projects known as National Mission Initiatives within 90 days – as well as taking over the controversial Project Maven.

The office will be known as the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), with the goal of enabling “teams across DoD to swiftly deliver new AI-enabled capabilities and effectively experiment with new operating concepts in support of DoD’s military missions and business functions,” according to DoD spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza.

Put another way, the group will have the “overarching goal of accelerating the delivery of AI-enabled capabilities, scaling the Department-wide impact of AI, and synchronizing DoD AI activities to expand Joint Force advantages,” according to a copy of the memo posted by Breaking Defense.

“This effort is a Department priority. Speed and security are of the essence,” Shanahan wrote. “I expect all offices and personnel to provide all reasonable support necessary to make rapid enterprise-wide AI adoption a reality.”

The JAIC marks the second major initiative Pentagon leaders handed over to Deasy, a former CIO with JPMorgan Chase who has only been at the Pentagon for a few weeks. Deasy also is in charge of managing the department’s JEDI cloud computing contract.

The idea of standing up an AI center was first confirmed by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on April 12, but it has been championed by the Defense Innovation Board, a group of outside experts ho advice the secretary on potential updates to how the Pentagon handles evolving technologies.

According to Michael Griffin, the head of Pentagon research and engineering, the department counts 592 projects as having some form of AI in them. However, Griffin said in April 18 testimony that he did not believe every one of those projects makes sense to roll into some sort of AI hub.

That concern appears to be reflected in Shanahan’s memo, which orders that any AI project with a budget of $15 million or more should be coordinated with the services in order to ensure “DoD is creating Department-wide advantages.”

In terms of budget, Shanahan ordered the Pentagon’s comptroller to find options for funding during the current fiscal year, but the major focus is on driving resources for fiscal year 2019 and beyond. Given the support for artificial intelligence research on the Hill, it is likely the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY19 will include some funding for the new office.

The movement of Project Maven to the JAIC is notable. A DoD initiative to accelerate the integration of big data and machine learning, largely drawing on video feeds from unmanned systems, Maven in the last month has become a poster child for the clash of cultures between the defense department and Silicon Valley.

Google was working hand-in-hand with the Pentagon on the project, until a backlash from the company’s employees, who argued in an open letter signed by more than 3,000 workers that it did not want to “build warfare technology.” Moving the program to the JAIC may be an attempt to keep the project underway without Google’s participation.

Why the US Military won’t stop Russian and Syrian forces from violating a cease-fire

Men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic Forces as U.S. special operators ride in the back of a pickup truck in the northern Syrian province of Raqa on May 25, 2016. (Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)

Kyle Rempfer

Syrian regime forces, buoyed by Russian air power, have pushed into rebel territory in the Syrian city of Deraa, violating the de-escalation zone agreement negotiated between the United States, Russia and Jordan last year.

However, the U.S. military will not be stepping in to enforce the failing cease-fire.

While the U.S. State Department expressed concern over the offensive, a message to locals from the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, has made it clear that American forces have no intention of stepping into the fray.

“We are still advising the Russians and the Syrian regime not to take any military action that violates the de-escalation zone in Syria’s southwest,” the June 19 message reads.

“But we need to clarify our position: We understand you need to make your decision based on your interests and the interests of your families and faction, as you see them. You should not base your decision on the assumption or expectation of military intervention by us.”

“This decision is in your hands alone,” the message concludes.

When asked what sort of message this sends to other U.S.-backed groups in Syria, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, Pentagon officials said the situations are not the same.

“To be clear, the coalition does not back ‘rebels’ in Syria, and we are not operating in territories under the regime’s control,” Army Col. Thomas Veale, a spokesman for the anit-ISIS coalition, told Military Times.

“Operation Inherent Resolve and its SDF partners are not engaged in the Syrian civil war against the Assad regime and its supporters, nor do we seek to be,” he added. “We remain focused on our mission to defeat ISIS and set conditions for follow-on conditions to increase regional stability.”

The Deraa offensive is especially concerning given the destabilizing effects it could have on nearby Jordan, as well as Israel’s Golan Heights.

“Washington seems to have decided that Israel can look after itself on the Golan [Heights] and can draw red lines for Iran in Syria,” Landis added. “Israel would like the U.S. to step up to this task and has suggested that there could be a future war in Syria over Iranian influence, but this is probably heavy breathing. Iran is in no condition to go to war against Israel and would surely lose. Israel has claimed unimpeded success in bombing Iranian hardware, missile sites, and bases in Syria.”

In this picture taken on March 29, a fighter, second from right, of the U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council, stands next to a U.S. humvee at a U.S. troop outpost on a road leading to the tense front line between Syrian Manbij Military Council fighters and Turkish-backed fighters, at Halawanji village, north of Manbij town, Syria. (Hussein Malla/AP)
In this picture taken on March 29, a fighter, second from right, of the U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council, stands next to a U.S. humvee at a U.S. troop outpost on a road leading to the tense front line between Syrian Manbij Military Council fighters and Turkish-backed fighters, at Halawanji village, north of Manbij town, Syria. (Hussein Malla/AP)

The lack of a desire to push back against Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces also lends credence to the idea that the SDF will eventually be urged to negotiate with the Russian-backed regime.

The SDF units — comprised of Kurdish and Syrian fighters — have been repeatedly told to focus on the anti-ISIS mission that remains unsettled in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.

The coalition was forced to hold an “operational pause” in the fight against ISIS in March, after Kurdish SDF members went north to fight Turkish forces in Afrin,Syria.

Kurdish forces also appear to be losing their bid to stay in northeast Syria’s strategic town of Manbij after a deal between U.S. and Turkish officials will reportedly necessitate their departure.

”The SDF is trying to hedge its bets,” Landis said. “It’s leaders have called for opening talks with Damascus about federalism and autonomy agreements. The recent deal that the United States came to with Turkey in Manbij, is a bad sign for the Kurds.”

Only months earlier, U.S. leaders said they would not cede ground in Manbij. But now, reality appears to have sunk in, as the United States still needs Turkey and is willing to make concessions to Ankara to keep relations from deteriorating, Landis said.

“Deraa is further proof that the U.S. is trimming its commitments in Syria,” he added.

The Air Force has decided not to charge a Colonel accused of sexually abusing two boys

Despite pleas from Air Force lawyers, the service is declining to charge a military doctor accused of sexually and physically abusing two elementary-school-aged boys.

The accusations, which included sodomy, black eyes and cuts, were dismissed on June 15 after an Air Force two-star general determined that the evidence uncovered was “inconclusive,” according to interviews and documents obtained by USA Today.

The allegations were against Col. Eric Holt, a battlefield physician wounded by an improvised explosive device during a night-time raid in Afghanistan in 2009. Holt transferred into anesthesiology after his injury, as chronicled by Bethesda Magazine, and moved on to work at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

Lawyers for the two boys wrote a letter on June 14 to Air Force officials urging charges be pursued against Holt, citing photographs of the boys’ injuries and expert testimony supporting the truthfulness of their accounts.

The allegations caught the attention of some Congress members — including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Massachusetts Democratic Reps. Joe Kennedy III and Niki Tsongas. Those three members co-authored a letter calling for Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein to review the case.

Col. Eric Holt, shown here when he was a major, is accused of abusing two boys, but the Air Force is declining to pursue the charges. Holt was included in the Air Force's Profiles in Courage several years ago when, as a major, he was part of a Marine special operations team that was struck by an IED under a vehicle. The blast threw him 35 yards from the vehicle. Despite his severe injuries, he attempted to assess and treat his teammates. (Courtesy photo via Air Force)
Col. Eric Holt, shown here when he was a major, is accused of abusing two boys, but the Air Force is declining to pursue the charges. Holt was included in the Air Force’s Profiles in Courage several years ago when, as a major, he was part of a Marine special operations team that was struck by an IED under a vehicle. The blast threw him 35 yards from the vehicle. Despite his severe injuries, he attempted to assess and treat his teammates. (Courtesy photo via Air Force)

“We are concerned that the safety of the children in this case could be seriously undermined because of reported actions taken by members of the command and Air Force Office of Special Investigations, which suggest that the Air Force’s own procedures and policies were not followed,” the Congress members wrote in their June 12 letter.

After undergoing a dual review, however, the case is closed.

Holt faced charges under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which covers rape, sexual assault, and other sexual misconduct.

The sexual assault component of the case meant that a dual review of the evidence was required. The special court-martial convening authority decided against recommending the case go before a preliminary hearing, and the two-star general overseeing the case chose not to overturn that decision and order the case up to a general court-martial convening authority, according to Newsweek.

“The investigation wrongfully omitted highly relevant information in this case,” the Air Force attorneys for the boys, Capts. Lauren Kerby and Stephanie Howell, wrote in the memo to Air Force leadership this month.

The omitted evidence includes a photo of one of the boys’ bruised genitals and a statement from one women to whom the boy complained about the incident, USA Today reported.

“These are very serious allegations, and we took numerous steps to thoroughly investigate and protect the welfare of these children,” Lt. Col. Brus Vidal, an Air Force spokesman, said in a statement to USA Today. “In this case, the Air Force investigated the allegations, reviewed evidence and assessments from Maryland law enforcement and child service agencies, and then determined there was not sufficient evidence to support the allegations.”

Kyle Rempfer is the Early Bird Brief Editor for Military Times and a former Air Force combat controller.

Defense and delusion: America’s military, industry are falling behind

Should a real national emergency occur, America’s industrial base does not have the capacity to surge, leaving its defense at significant risk. (Petty Officer 3rd Class Walter Wayman/U.S. Navy)

Three great misconceptions of America’s martial power delude both the public and our decision-makers into thinking, and too often acting, as if our nation’s military preeminence is permanent, a preordained birthright. Americans believe we are ― and always will be ― more capable than our adversaries and can rapidly build up to overcome any threat.

Without significant investments, we’re probably wrong.

In fact, America’s 2018 military is a smaller, more expensive force largely operating Desert Storm vintage equipment. The lack of a serious conventional foe in either Iraq or Afghanistan masks the real state of the U.S. military. For example, the Air Force went into the first Gulf War with 134 fighter squadrons in its arsenal; of that, 32 deployed and fought. The average age of those fighters was 10 years.

Today, the Air Force has only 55 fighter squadrons, average age of 27 years, with one we fund through contingency resources. Because of readiness gaps, the Air Force couldn’t deploy 32 fighter squadrons today without destroying airplanes and risking aircrew lives.

Desert Storm also informed the world about U.S. advances in technology and operational concepts ― new capabilities that enabled U.S. forces to dominate Iraq’s military, the fifth-largest in the world in 1990. Unfortunately, our success led us not only to accept America’s lead in technology and innovation, but to assume we’d always retain it — a feeling reinforced by the experiences in Bosnia-Herzegovina and early on in Afghanistan and then Iraq.

Simultaneously, however, our competitors recognized our capabilities and refused to cede the advantages we had created. They’ve invested heavily to counter our edge.

When seeking its cancellation, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates famously called the F-22 a Cold War relic, saying we were generations ahead of both the Chinese and Russians, so that such a massive investment was foolhardy in the face of ongoing counterinsurgencies. Instead, we now see both China and Russia gearing up production lines to deliver stealthy counters to the F-22, while we closed the F-22 production line after buying less than half of what Air Force leadership said we needed simply to sustain a “high” risk level.

For the first time since 1953, there’s now a chance that an airplane above American surface forces may be hostile.

Perhaps more dangerously, in some critical emerging technologies such as hypersonics, the United States finds itself behind. Both in terms of innovation and fielding existing technology, our sclerotic acquisition system has throttled our industrial base, increasing the rate at which our military superiority erodes.

Finally, most American’s believe our nation enjoys the same defense-industrial base that served as the “arsenal of democracy” in World War II, capable of scaling up production and innovation when truly needed, or the so-called military-industrial complex that powered the United States through the Cold War.

Today, instead of a robust bench of large and mid-sized companies and their myriad small-business suppliers competing and producing new capabilities at the speed of information-age innovation, our defense industry has shrunk to a few standout corporations. This has obscured fragile supply chains that are hampered by a risk-averse government acquisition system that takes 10 years to field a replacement handgun for the services.

Should a real national emergency occur, our industrial base does not have the capacity to surge, leaving our defense at significant risk.

These three misperceptions — the military’s capacity, its relative capabilities and industry’s ability to supply it quickly with weapons systems that can dominate our peers — have put the United States in a precarious position. Today’s increasingly chaotic and dangerous set of national security threats coupled with a return to great power competition challenge the U.S.-led international order that delivered relative peace and prosperity to this nation, and much of the world, for almost four generations.

We still have the most capable military in the world, but that position is increasingly in jeopardy. It’s time to see reality, recognize these challenges and their root causes, and make the hard reforms necessary to reinvest in American strength.